Something's got to give Thursday night.
The Illini and Buckeyes will meet in Columbus with both teams the losers of four straight games. The starting points might have been different — Ohio State was the third-ranked team in the country when its skid began, Illinois just fresh into the top 25 — but how the teams got here is strikingly similar, as is the frustration shared by both.
"Not the way that either team wanted it to go so far, but it's just kind of one of those things that happens," Illinois forward Jon Ekey said Wednesday. "Basketball's all about ups and downs. It's going to be an interesting game, two teams that are really just trying to find their way back."
The teams are trying to find their way back to what was up to this point the respective crests of their seasons. The Buckeyes won all of their first 15 games, and though the most impressive wins came against disappointing teams in Marquette and Notre Dame, the Ohio State defense was earning national acclaim. Then came the Big Ten gauntlet. Losses to Michigan State and Iowa preceded road defeats to Minnesota and Nebraska. The Illini similarly had a strong start before getting derailed by the strength of the conference, suffering a blowout loss to Wisconsin, a surprise defeat at Northwestern and home defeats to Michigan State and Purdue.
Left to pick up the pieces and try to turn this season around, both teams have 2-4 league records.
"Pride starts to set in a little bit in terms of both teams, where both of us are at right now," Illinois head coach John Groce said. "It just kind of is what it is."
The key throughout the skids for both the Illini and Buckeyes has been a struggle to score. Neither team was an offensive juggernaut before things went south, both relying heavily on defensive prowess to win them games, but the offensive drought in each team's last four games has been a bad one. Ohio State has averaged 64.3 points per game during its losing streak, Illinois has averaged 58.3. The Buckeyes and Illini rank ninth and 10th in the Big Ten in scoring, respectively.
"We've tried from speed shooting to every shot a guy's going to take at the pace that he's going to take it. Honestly, we need a couple to go down for us and regain a little momentum, a little confidence in our stroke if we could," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "It's one of those deals where sometimes the best answer is just make a couple and everything sort of takes care of itself.
"The thing I've been trying to get these guys to understand is let's get back to playing the way we're supposed to play. Not that that's going to guarantee us a win, but I know this: It increases our chances greatly if we play the way we're supposed to play just in terms of the little things of gaining some momentum."
Both teams would love if they could get back to playing the way they were playing before these dueling nightmares began. Whether or not that happens Wednesday, one team's skid will come to an end. As one Illini said, it just comes down to doing what they were doing before.
"We're all composed, and we understand what we need to do," Illinois guard Tracy Abrams said. "Just got to go out there and do it."