Penn State Men’s Basketball Preview: At Illinois
It’s a big week for Penn State as it travels on the road to face up against No. 20 Illinois and Rutgers.
These two matchups feature some of the hardest places to play in the Big Ten. Both teams combine for a 26-6 record at home.
“It’s about us being ready to play right from the start and playing a full 40 minutes, that’s what we've been missing on the road,” coach Micah Shrewsberry said.
The Nittany Lion’s previous game against Nebraska was their last home game of the year. The Cornhuskers came into the Bryce Jordan Center and scored a Big Ten season-high 93 points.
On the flip side, this was the worst defensive performance from Penn State this year. They allowed five Nebraska players to score in double figures, the first time all season.
Senior leader John Harrar had a monstrous night on senior night against Northwestern grabbing career-high 20 rebounds. He’s back to averaging a double-double a game at 10.6 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game.
Penn State will have to fix the defensive lapses that occurred against Nebraska to be competitive against Illinois. That game alone was enough to drop Penn State from number one in points allowed per game to third in the Big Ten.
With one road win and one ranked win, the Illini will be a difficult late-season test.
“Even the best teams struggle. It is really about your focus. Your focus has to become more intense on the road. There are so many distractions with less people on your side,” Shrewsberry said.
The Illini are 3-3 in their last six games coming off a road win over Michigan. Sitting at second in the Big Ten, they have a chance to secure a share of the regular-season Big Ten title with Wisconsin.
Kofi Cockburn is having a dominant season leading the Big Ten in rebounds per game, just ahead of Harrar. Cockburn is the only player in the nation to be inside the top ten in both scoring and points per game.
While they are the best rebounding team in the Big Ten, they also have a talented backcourt with three guards averaging double figures.
Transferring in from Utah, Alfonso Plummer has developed to become an elite shooter in the Big Ten. He is averaging 15.5 points a game and is shooting 42% from the three, second in the conference.
A road game against a ranked opponent will be a hard task to bounce back after the blowout loss to Nebraska. If Penn State can limit the turnovers, then they have a chance of keeping it close.
The Illini have so many talented guards who are more athletic than Penn State’s. The offensive firepower will be too much to keep up with.
Illinois 80, Penn State 65
Austin Groft is a third-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com
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