Penn State vs. Illinois Preview: Lions Looking to Rebound at Home

Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

PSU has returned to earth after a shellacking in East Lansing. Fortunately for the Lions, the Illini are in free fall and another Big Ten win seems ripe for the picking.

Who: Illinois Fighting Illini
When: Sunday, 4:15pm
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: BTN
KenPom Rank: 85
KenPom Line: PSU -4
Enemy Blog: The Champaign Room

After snapping their three game win streak in flat fashion at Michigan State on Thursday, Penn State has a good chance to get back on the horse with a home date against the B1G's worst team. Illinois students are attempting to give their team as much of a home court advantage as possible to ensure the result is the same as the reverse fixture.

Scouting The Opposition

That Jan 4th affair in Champaign feels longer than a month ago. PSU and Illinois have trended in opposite directions since; John Groce's team hasn't won since, while the Nittany Lions have played well against teams not from Michigan en route to a 3-5 record. Fueling Illinois' downward spiral to the B1G basement has been some dreadful shooting. The Illini are dead last in the conference in offensive efficiency with an effective field goal percentage of 41.8%. They haven't scored more than 75 points since the win over Penn State, and they're not getting close like the Nittany Lions have been in many of their losses; Illinois' average margin of defeat over the eight game losing streak is -10.

Swingman Rayvonte Rice is still their leading scorer at 16.9 ppg, but beyond him the Illini have found points hard to come by. Tracy Abrams is second on the team with 11.9 ppg, but his 36% shooting from the floor doesn't make him reliable in any sense of the word. If there is one area in which Illinois has an advantage, albeit slight, over Penn State, it's on the glass. They have four players who average more than five boards per game and as a team they gather 29.5% of available offensive rebounds, while the Nittany Lions allow opponents to grab 36.5% of available o-rebs. If Penn State can control the glass like they did in their last win against Purdue, the best offensive rebounding team in the conference, they shouldn't have much of a problem with Sunday's opponents.

Key Matchup

D.J. Newbill was ejected from State Farm Arena after a confrontation with Illini freshman Kendrick Nunn in the first game, robbing the crowd of a full 40-minute battle between he and Rice. The two are strong, power guards that are so alike that they appear on each other's KenPom pages as statistically similar players. Newbill struggled from behind the arc against Michigan State on Thursday but he was still effective inside the arc. Rice himself has a tendency to fall in love with the three, so whichever player is more aggressive on Sunday should come out on top.

Prediction

Penn State got blown out the last time they faced Illinois, but recent form and history point to a Nittany Lion victory. Tim Frazier had just 10 points against a lanky backcourt in Champaign, but he's coming off of the best shooting performance of his conference season and that confidence should carry over as he looks to become the school's all-time leader in assists (needs one to pass Freddie Barnes). John Johnson was one of the few Nittany Lions who had success in the road game -  he and the rest of the supporting cast will need to give the starting backcourt some help, but I like them to do just that in the BJC. Penn State 64, Illinois 58.

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