Game 26: at Illinois Preview

USA TODAY Sports

Despite moving to 0-13 in conference play, the Lions have played relatively well in their last two games. Unfortunately, the Illini are on an actual winning streak and playing their best basketball of the conference season.

Who: Illinois Chef Illini Fighting Illini (19-8, 6-7)
When: Thursday, 8:15pm
Where: Assembly Hall
TV: BTN

Penn State was ultimately unable to overcome Michigan's sheer firepower on Sunday, even though the Lions led for much of the first half and gave the Wolverines just about as much as they could handle from the conference's worst team. Pat Chambers isn't a believer in moral victories, but it was certainly pleasing to see this team compete with one of the nation's best outfits. The improvements the coaching staff had been talking about are becoming more and more apparent, and at this rate that goose egg in the win column will be gone by the end of the regular season. I hope.

Though it may not happen in Champaign. The Illini are cruising right now, having won four games on the bounce after starting 2-7 in the Big Ten. With their tournament hopes fully rejuvenated (no, like, fully rejuvenated), a home loss to Penn State could make Selection Sunday a bit sweaty.

The streak is even more impressive considering the funk Brandon Paul has been in lately. Illinois' leading scorer (16.4 ppg) has struggled since his 21-point performance in the Illini's upset of Indiana two weeks ago, averaging just 7 ppg over his last three games. Fellow seniors D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey have stepped up to fill some of the scoring void; Richardson led the team with 18 in their thrashing of Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan and Griffey posted a team-high 16 points (including 4-7 from three) in their upset(?) of then-ranked Minnesota.

Penn State couldn't have played much better than they did on Sunday. They shot 43.9% on the road against a top-5 opponent--such a figure had been previously unheard of in the Chambers era. They also imposed themselves on the glass, outrebounding Michigan 33-23. If they can limit Illinois' chances on offense and shoot the way they have in the last two games, PSU might be able to keep this one close.

There were plenty of individual bright spots at Michigan. Sasa Borovnjak posted a career-high 17 points at Crisler following a 14-point effort against Iowa, finishing the week 13-17 from the field and (I assume) prompting Tom Crean to question the conference's POTW selections. Ross Travis also had a great game, going for 11 points and 10 rebounds. Even Nick Colella got in on the action, stuffing the stat sheet with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall can essentially be penciled in for 10+ points every game, of course, but when Penn State gets these types of outings from secondary scoring options, they can be quite a handful.

And I'll take this opportunity to get a little nostalgic and point out that if Talor Battle taught this program anything, it's how to beat Illinois:



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