HQ prediction: UI 73, Penn State 70
Penn State at Illinois,
1:15 p.m. today
Illinois (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 13.0
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 19.0
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 11.0
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 8.2
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 8.0
FYI: Abrams, Rice and Bertrand have accounted for 117 of Illinois’ 157 points in the last two games, about 75 percent of the team’s points in the wins against Illinois-Chicago and Indiana.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.5
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 3.2
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.0
PENN STATE (9-5, 0-1 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tim Frazier Sr. 6-1 17.4
G D.J. Newbill Jr. 6-4 18.8
F Ross Travis Jr. 6-6 11.4
F Brandon Taylor So. 6-7 11.3
F Donovon Jack So. 6-9 7.4
FYI: Frazier, the only player in the country averaging better than 17 points and seven assists, entered the week with the most assists of any player in the country (102) and third in assists per game (7.3).
OFF THE BENCH
G John Johnson Jr. 6-1 11.0
G Allen Roberts Sr. 6-3 6.6
G Geno Thorpe Fr. 6-3 2.6
Site: State Farm Center (16.618), Champaign
TV: BTN — Josh Lewin (play-by-play) and Shon Morris (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 25-13. Last meeting: Illinois 64, Penn State 59, Feb. 21, 2013 (Champaign).
FYI: This is the first of five straight Illinois games that will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. Thirteen of the next 14 games will be shown on the conference’s television station.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1 Remember those explosive backcourts Oregon and Missouri featured against the Illini? If not, familiarize yourself, because Penn State features one just as good as the Ducks and Tigers. Tim Frazier is back after missing last season with a torn Achilles, D.J. Newbill was leading the Big Ten in scoring before Rayvonte Rice overtook him earlier this week, and transfer John Johnson scored 20 points in his Penn State debut two weeks ago. “They are a load on offense. They’ve got multiple shooters, multiple ball handlers, multiple drivers,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “It starts with their guard play and that’s probably where we’re the most concerned.” The tough guards Illinois’ perimeter players have matched up with have prepared them for today’s challenge. “We had (Kelsey) Barlow, (Jordan Clarkson), Oregon, Yogi (Ferrell). We’ve played tough guards, and we’ve just got to do the job,” Abrams said.
2 One of the Illini guards who will be tasked with helping slow Penn State’s offense is Joseph Bertrand, the fifth-year senior who’s made his share of flashy plays — his reverse alley-oop against Indiana was a top play on ESPN — and had some standout games during his career. He hasn’t exploded yet this season and that’s all right. He’s been steady, exactly what his coaches are looking for. He’s reached double figures in nine of 14 games and has grabbed at least five rebounds 10 times. “The consistency Joe has shown this year over last year, much different,” Groce said. “His defense is so much better. He was always an athlete that could guard the ball, but the little details of our defensive system, he’s really embraced them, and he just doesn’t really make many mistakes on defense.”
3 According to Groce, the practices leading up to today’s game have been very good. The maturity of the team leaders and the team as a whole have been exemplary. It’s especially impressive with so many new faces, coming off an emotional win against a rival and the New Year’s holiday in between games. Past Illinois teams didn’t handle success well. This group has seemed to break that mold. “There’s been a few times where you have to check them a little bit, but all in all they’ve been pretty good,” Groce said. “I think the fact that it’s our second year and the guys that are older know what we expect. They’ve done such a great job of providing verbal and non-verbal leadership that the other guys have watched and figured out some things.”
Prediction: Illinois 73, Penn State 70
Friday night, the Illini broke from routine and attended a function to honor the 1989 Flyin’ Illini team, which will be recognized at halftime of today’s game. It’s not a distraction or anything that should affect the current team during today’s game. “It should be an inspiration,” Groce said. None of the 2013-14 Illini were born when Kendall Gill, Kenny Battle, Nick Anderson, Stephen Bardo, Lowell Hamilton and the rest of the Flyin’ Illini were doing their thing, but spending time around the legends is something that can help this current group going forward. “It’s going to be great to see those guys and get some input from them. I’ll definitely take it in,” Abrams said. (N-G prediction record: 12-2)