Game Preview: Men’s Basketball vs. Illinois

Audio/Story posted February 18, 2020 in CommRadio, Sports by Zach Donaldson

Logan Bourandas, Matt McClure, Ben Geller and Caleb Schweiger look ahead to Penn State's matchup against Illinois. 

As of Monday, Penn State is ranked No. 9 in the country and deservingly so. So far, the Nittany Lions have exceeded many people’s expectations and continue to live up to their motto as they keep climbing in the rankings. Facing a struggling Illinois team on Tuesday, they’ll look to take care of business at home and continue to ascend to the top.

Illinois has dropped its last four games to the likes of Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State and Rutgers. After Illinois peaked at No. 19 in the rankings, the Fighting Illini now sit unranked coming into this contest with Penn State.

Penn State is beginning to separate itself in the Big Ten standings, while Illinois is fighting to stay in the race and not fall too far behind.

Keys to the Game for Penn State

Averaging eight per game, Penn State leads the Big Ten in steals and is amongst the better teams in the nation at forcing turnovers. Illinois, on the other hand, is not a team that forces many turnovers and its defense is mediocre.

On offense, Penn State is a team that doesn’t turn the ball over regularly. The Nittany Lions shoot a lot of 3s and shoot respectable 33.6% from deep. Conversely, Illinois is not a 3-point shooting team. If Jamari Wheeler and the rest of Penn State’s guard rotation can fluster Illinois on the perimeter like they’re so good at doing, the Illini could struggle to keep up with the Nittany Lions.

Penn State is a team that on offense plays unselfishly and moves the ball to lead to points. If the Nittany Lions can hit their open threes while also forcing turnovers on the defensive end and get out in transition, this slumping Illinois team could find itself in a deficit quickly. As visitors, it could get to the point where it’s too big of a hole to climb out of.

Keys to the Game for Illinois

One major key for Illinois in this game is the status of their best player and go-to guy, Ayo Dosunmu. Whether Dosunmu plays or not could be the difference maker in this game. The sophomore guard was injured in the final seconds of Illinois’ 70-69 loss to Michigan State a week ago. He will be a gametime decision Tuesday night.

Dosunmu is Illinois’ leading scorer and facilitator, averaging just under 16 points and 3.3 assists per game. He’s a general on the floor and a key part to the Illinois defense also. If Dosunmu can’t go, the Fighting Illini will certainly miss his contributions on both ends as they did in their 72-57 loss to Rutgers this past Saturday. Without Dosunmu, The Fighting Illini will need to look elsewhere to find success. Look no further than 7-foot center Kofi Cockburn.

Illinois averages 40 rebounds per game, which is good for 16th in the nation. It begins with Cockburn, who’s averaging a team-leading nine. He’s also the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 13.6 points per-game. Cockburn and the Fighting Illini are going to need to be tough in the paint, active on the boards and not allow a proficient Nittany Lions offense – that is stellar on the offensive glass themselves – any extra opportunities.

Penn State is a team that tends to thrive when it's winning the battle on the boards. The Nittany Lions are 14-0 when they outrebound opponents this season. It’s going to be important for the Fighting Illini to do what they do best and crash the glass every possession if they want to win.

Final analysis

Penn State is rolling, and Illinois is going in the opposite direction. The Nittany Lions will prove to have too much firepower for the Fighting Illini to handle. Penn State makes it nine straight wins and sends Illinois home with their fifth straight loss.

Prediction: Penn State 78, Illinois 65


Zach Donaldson is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email

About the Contributors

Matthew McClure's photo

Matthew McClure

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

With his hard-work and dedication to excellence, Matthew McClure looks to achieve future goals in sports broadcasting. He is from Glenmoore, Pennsylvania and a senior broadcast journalism major at Pennsylvania State University. He has experience working in sports and is willing to work outside his comfort zone. Matthew served as an active member at CommRadio, where he performed many different play by play broadcasts, wrote articles, and is a host of his NBA talk radio show Half Court. The past two summers, Matthew moved to Florida to work as an communications intern at the Florida Collegiate Summer Baseball League. There, he broadcasted every game for the Seminole County Scorpions, and was presented with the Sara Whiting Young Professionals Award.

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Logan Bourandas

Third-Year / Broadcast Journalism

Logan Bourandas is a third-year broadcast journalism major from Long Island, NY. He is a the news director for CommRadio and the host of Ducks on the Pond, which is an all-baseball talk show on CommRadio. He is also a sports writer, broadcaster and podcaster for CommRadio. He got his start as the station manager for his high school radio station WPOB in his hometown of Plainview, NY, where he hosted numerous radio shows and was involved in sports broadcasts. You can contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Zach Donaldson's photo

Zach Donaldson

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Zach is a senior from Downingtown, Pennsylvania and is an aspiring broadcast journalism major. Zach is an editor for CommRadio and additionally a member of the CommRadio Sports department. Zach is a producer, broadcaster and beat writer for various live Penn State sporting events. Zach also co-hosts a weekly talk show, Sports with a Z (SWAZ) on CommRadio. The show airs live every Monday from 8:45-9:45. Some of his interests aside from CommRadio include watching sports, working out and listening to a variety of music. He can be contacted via email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), and you can find him on Twitter @zachdonaldson_.