College Basketball: Illinois vs Penn State Preview & Pick
NCAA Basketball Spread: Off
Illinois wasn’t highly touted going into the season, but they sit atop the Big Ten standings early in the season. Last week’s victory over Ohio State was a huge boost to this team. The Fighting Illini are now ranked in the top 25 nationally. Penn State is in the middle of a rebuilding season after losing their star from last year, but the Nittany Lions are dangerous at home. Penn State already dominated Purdue at home. How will this Big Ten matchup play out?
Brandon Paul had one of the most amazing games I’ve ever seen last week against Ohio State. Paul put up a ridiculous 43 points against the Buckeyes. It wasn’t as if Paul was wide open, rather he was constantly draining tough contested shots. Going into last week’s game he was averaging only 11 points per contest. It will be interesting to see if that game propels him to a great rest of the season, or if it was just a one-time amazing showing. Illinois is a guard-oriented team that lacks a true low-post offensive presence. Meyers Leonard continues to progress at the center spot, and he has a nice shot from outside. Illinois averages 68.8 points per game.
Bruce Weber is a defensive coach at heart, and the Fighting Illini have improved defensively as the season has moved along. At the beginning of the season opponents were finding too many open jumpers, but Illinois has tightened up the man-to-man defense a lot over past few weeks. The Fighting Illini are giving up just 61 points per contest.
Penn State made it to the NCAA Tournament last year, but it was Talor Battle’s team. Battle graduated and the Nittany Lions were left in rebuilding mode. Tim Frazier is the clear leader of this year’s team, but he isn’t the same type of play maker that Battle was. Frazier is averaging 18 points per game, but he is shooting just 41% from the floor and 28% from three-point range. The worst news for Penn State is that Frazier also leads the team in rebounding. Frazier is a good rebounding guard, but it can’t be considered a good sign when a guard gets more rebounds than any forward or center on the team. Offensively, Penn State is shooting just 39% from the floor as a team.
Defensively, the Nittany Lions have been mediocre this year. Indiana put up 88 points on Penn State recently. This isn’t a team that is able to outscore people, so the Nittany Lions really need to pick up the defensive intensity if they hope to win many games in the Big Ten.
Illinois hasn’t been very good on the road this year, so I don’t think they’ll run away with this one. At the same time, the Fighting Illini are definitely more talented than Penn State and I think they are better on the defensive end.
Prediction: Illinois 68 Penn State 63