HQ men's hoops prediction: UI 70, Penn State 69
Illinois men at Penn State,
3:15 p.m. Sunday
Illinois (13-10, 2-8 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 11.9
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 16.9
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 11.0
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 7.9
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 7.1
FYI: Rice is currently the only player in the Big Ten who leads his team in scoring, rebounding (5.9) and steals (1.3).
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.4
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 4.1
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.3
Penn State (12-11, 3-7 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tim Frazier Sr. 6-1 16.4
G D.J. Newbill Jr. 6-4 17.6
G Graham Woodward Fr. 6-0 2.9
F Brandon Taylor So. 6-7 9.9
F Donovon Jack So. 6-9 6.9
FYI: The 17 points Newbill and Frazier, the fifth-highest-scoring backcourt duo in the country, scored in the previous meeting against Illinois in Champaign represented a season low for points between the pair.
OFF THE BENCH
G John Johnson Jr. 6-1 7.5
G Allen Roberts Sr. 6-3 5.7
F Ross Travis Jr. 6-6 9.7
Site: Bryce Jordan Center (15,261), State College, Pa.
TV: BTN — Eric Collins (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 26-13. Last meeting: Illinois 75, Penn State 55, Jan. 4 (Champaign).
FYI: All six losses Illinois has suffered in Bryce Jordan Center have been by three points or less. The losses have been decided by a total of 12 points.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1. For much of Illinois’ eight-game losing streak, solid play on the defensive end has remained a constant. In Tuesday’s home loss to Wisconsin, coach John Groce expressed disappointment with his team’s defense, particularly down the stretch. In Illinois’ last win, Jan. 4 against today’s opponent, the defense was as good as it’s been in any game this season, limiting the dynamic duo of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill to 17 points. To get back on the winning track, it will take a similar effort at that end of the floor. “Trying to get our defensive disposition back is important,” Groce said. “We won that (Penn State) game because we defended. The drum we’re going to beat is trying to get that back, being able to impose our will a little bit more on the defensive end.”
2. The wins haven’t come as a result, but in the two home games last week, Illinois showed offensive improvement. In the six games prior to hosting Iowa and Wisconsin, the Illini were scoring an average of 55.7 points per game. They averaged 69 points in the two losses last week. “The offense in the two home games last week was as good as it’s been in a long time,” Groce said. “I thought we did some good things at that end of the floor that really made me feel optimistic about the direction that our offense is going.” Scoring at Penn State in recent years has been a struggle for Illinois, which has lost four of five at State College. In those four losses, the Illini have averaged 55 points per game.
3. With folks outside the program growing restless at the lack of wins lately, there’s plenty of noise coming into the Illinois program. “They should have won this game” or “They should have X amount of wins” and so on. Inside the program, Groce says he’s not spending too much time thinking about those things. “I can’t control what people think, what people say, that’s up to them. I’m more worried about how to help our guys. How do we help them get better individually? How do we help them get better as a team? How can we max out what we have collectively, what we have individually? That’s our focus every year, and that’s all you can control,” Groce said. “We’ve got some guys that need to get better. Our guys care enough that they will attack those areas and work very hard. They always do what we ask them to do.” Some guys, though, Groce said, could stand to improve in that area as well. “I wish some guys were more teachable. We’ve got some guys that need a little bit better habits over the course of time with some of our younger guys.”
Illinois 70, Penn State 69
The Illini haven’t won in more than a month, and that has a way of ripping some teams apart at the seams. Not this group, according to its coach. “Chemistry is not an issue. We’ve got good guys, we’ve got good teamism, we’ve had that the majority of the year, if not the entire year,” Groce said. One would think in a stretch like this, playing in the comforts of home, might be the best chance to break the spell, but for this tight-knit bunch, bonding on a road trip late in the season could be something that clears a path back into the win column. “I don’t think it hurts,” Groce said of getting away from home. “At the end of the day, I’m very proud of their collective toughness through the bulk of the 23 games, their morale, their chemistry, their attitude, their effort I think has been very, very good. That part has allowed us to continue coaching them and worry about execution and the things that we need to address to get better.” (N-G prediction record: 19-4)