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Penn State vs. Illinois Preview: Nittany Lions Seek to End the Season on a High Note Against Illinois

The Nittany Lions seek to end the season on a high note against an Illinois team that's struggled all season.

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Illinois Fighting Illini (13-17, 5-12)
When: Sunday, 12:00 p.m. ET
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
KenPom Rank: 139
Vegas Line: Penn State -4
Enemy Blog: The Champaign Room

If there's a fanbase that should be disillusioned the state of their program, it's Illinois. Unlike the Lions, Illinois has been on a consistent downward trajectory since John Groce took over. From an NCAA appearance in 2012-13, where they almost took down #2 seed Miami to this season, where the combination of injuries, departures, and suspensions finally caught up to them. The Fighting Illini have looked out of sorts for most of the season, and their lack of depth prevents them from competing with the better teams in the second half of games.

Despite all their struggles this season, Illinois is still a talented team that get hot at the right times. They managed to beat Purdue early in the Big Ten season and stayed with Wisconsin for the entire game. Like our Lions, Illinois isn't a team that will give up until the final buzzer.

Scouting The Opposition

Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill are the top two scorers for Illinois, and they're going to be the two main guys to contain if Penn State wants to come out with a win on Sunday. The duo is averaging a combined 33.9 points per game, with an eFG% of 48.1 for Hill, and 52.7 for Nunn. Neither are a threat to shoot lights out from three, and Illinois as a team is 36% from beyond the arc. Illinois' only player above 40% from three is Jalen Coleman-Lands at 42.4%, but he's a one-dimensional player on offense at this early stage in his career. Penn State's main concern will be preventing Nunn and Hill from penetrating, and forcing Illinois to take their chances from outside.

Another advantage Penn State will have in this game is their size. Illinois' has played only two guys taller than 6'7" in the past 5 games. If Jordan Dickerson, Julian Moore, and Donovon Jack can stay out of foul trouble they will prove to be a matchup nightmare for Illinois.

What To Watch For

How will Penn State come out after the debacle on Thursday night? Will the come out defeated and disinterested or will they be angry, looking for to end the season on a high note? The NIT hopes may be dashed barring a miraculous run in the Big Ten tournament, but the team is still playing for a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

Expect the seniors to play with the same intensity they have all season. Also, the realization of playing their last game at Bryce Jordan will encourage the players to go out with a bang.


Illinois is a competitive team that will give you fits. Their depth, however, can be exploited to Penn State's advantage. The game will be close for 35 minutes, but Penn State pulls away at the end. Penn State 74, Illinois 64