Game Preview: Penn State vs Illinois
The Penn State Nittany Lions (10-16, 3-12) travel to Champaign, Illinois to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini (10-16, 6-9), in another Big Ten regular season matchup. With both teams struggling mightily in conference play this season and both most likely missing out on the NCAA tournament, look for this matchup to have little to no implications come March.
The Illinois Fighting Illini are one of the basement dwellers in the Big Ten this season and for good reason. For Illinois, lack of rim protection is a huge problem this season, with the Illini, ranked at the bottom for defensive rebounding, blocks, and opponent offensive rebounds per game.
Having freshman forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili down low is good for the Illini’s offense, as he has a crafty post game, averaging 12 points per game, but for their defense Bezhanishvili’s presence is lackluster.
The real shining point for Illinois is guards Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu. Frazier, a sophomore, averages 14 points per game on 40 percent shooting and 34 percent from three. Frazier is also very good on the defensive end, averaging 1.5 steals per game as well. Dosunmu also shines for Illinois, with his 14 points per game on a 43 field goal percentage and 34 percent from three.
Meanwhile, Penn State is absolutely carried by the play of junior forward Lamar Stevens. Steven’s averages 19 points per game, shooting 42 percent from the field and 21 percent from three, to go along with eight rebounds and two assists per game. Stevens is the heart and soul of this Penn State team, and all their offense flows through him.
Statistically, Penn State and Illinois are two of the worst teams in the Big Ten. For Penn State, their troubling offensive woes have cost them multiple games this season, with their lack of a scorer down the stretch severely hampering their late-game offense. For the Illini, their lack of any paint presence is a huge crutch, with teams being able to dominate the paint and hamper any inside defensive or offensive capabilities of Illinois.
The lack of an interior presence for Illinois will be the weak point Penn State attempts to target, with Stevens doing most of his work out of the low post on offense and rim-protecting big man Mike Watkins locking down the paint on defense.
On the flip side, Penn State's complete lack of skill at the guard spots, aside from the inconsistent senior guard Josh Reaves, will no doubt allow Dosunmu and Frazier to have their way in the backcourt matchup.
Watch for Penn State to take command of this game, controlling the paint and grabbing a win on the road 66-60.
David Saggio is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism, to contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org.