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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Since scouting teams in person is no longer permitted, Bruce Weber couldn't claim a front-row seat for Ohio State's red-hot shooting display Thursday night at Michigan.

But the Illini coach had the next best thing.

He watched from the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn., as the Buckeyes won 94-85, making 15 of 24 3-pointers including 12 in the first half. Sitting to his side was ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla, himself a former assistant coach at Ohio State.

Together they watched an uncanny shooting display and talked about how Illinois might confront more of the same today when the teams meet at Value City Arena.

And since Illinois already is coming off an upset loss at home to Penn State, no one can blame Weber for being a little nervous as his team fights to stay in the Big Ten Conference championship hunt.

"This will be as challenging for us defensively as anyone we've faced this year," Weber warned. "They have so many offensive weapons."

Nearly all of them were on display Thursday against the Wolverines.

Ohio State shot 61 percent for the game, including 70.4 percent in the second half, as the Buckeyes beat a nationally ranked team on the road for the first time since Thad Matta became the Buckeyes' coach last season.

For the Illini, there are no fond memories of their last visit to the Ohio State campus.

Illinois had won 29 straight and needed just one more victory to finish off a perfect 30-0 regular season last March. Instead, Ohio State rallied to win 65-64 on Matt Sylvester's 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds to go.

"I'm not sure this (Ohio State) team is all that different this year," Weber said in comparing the squads. "They're a little older, a little better. You add in another swing player in (Ron) Lewis (a transfer from Bowling Green). (Jamar) Butler is a year older and he's doing a nice job as the point guard.

"Maybe the one thing they don't have is a backup big man for (Terence) Dials. They just play small basically. It's four 'smalls,' and Dials because Sylvester is an in-betweener. That's where they put you in a bind. They ball pick and spread you out, and at other times they will punish you inside with Dials."

The one player Weber didn't mention is senior guard Je'Kel Foster, who is shooting 51.3 percent from 3-point range on the season and on Thursday nailed five of six.

The entire package poses problems for the Illini.

"We have to do a decent job getting to their 3-point shooters," Weber said. "That might be the most important thing. But they can go to Dials at any time because he's one of the best big men in the league offensively. So we have to fight Dials in the post, probably with Shaun Pruitt first.

"But we have to get the ball inside at our end, there's no doubt about that. You have to go at Dials and make him guard."

Important in the mix will be senior James Augustine, who has been battling foul troubles and who figures to go head-to-head with Dials at least some of the time. Augustine said today's game is purely about the matter at hand and not at all about revenge for the Buckeyes' victory here last March.

"It's more about our season this year," Augustine said. "We can't go over there and not be ready to play. I think we're more focused this year since we're coming off a loss. And we want to stay in the race for the Big Ten championship."

Ohio State has a veteran team that starts four seniors. But already speculation is building regarding next season, when the Buckeyes have one of the nation's most heralded recruiting classes set to arrive.

Already called "The Thad Five," because of its comparison to Michigan's "Fab Five" class in the early 1990s, the Ohio State class is headlined by 7-footer Greg Oden and also includes 6-1 Mike Conley Jr., 6-4 Daequan Cook, 6-9 Othello Hunter and 6-5 David Lighty.

Mark Tupper can be reached at mtupper@herald-review.com.

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