Penn State vs. Illinois Preview
It’s not often that Penn State’s star junior D.J. Newbill scores less than double digits in a game. But that was the case on January 4th, in Champaign, against Illinois. Newbill was held to just seven points, while shooting 2-8 from the field.
However, his shooting woes weren’t the only concern. With 8:38 seconds left in the second half Newbill was ejected after a retaliatory push to the back of Illinois freshman Kendrick Nunn’s head. Penn State was already letting the game slip away from them, but the ejection was serious turning point in the game. The Nittany Lions went on a dry spell, scoring only 12 points the rest of the game, five of which came from the charity stripe.
Illinois went on to defeat Penn State 75-55. The Nittny Lions had one of their worst shooting performances of the season, shooting an abysmal 17-57 from the field. After the win, the Fighting Illini were 13-2 overall and 2-0 in conference play and at the time looked like a solid contender in the Big Ten. Since Illinois’ home win against Penn State, everything has gone wrong for the Fighting Illini. That ‘everything’ includes eight straight losses in conference play; half of which have been by double digits.
Penn State on the other hand, has been playing their best basketball of the season; outside of a Thursday night loss at Michigan State. Before that loss, Penn State won three games in a row in the Big Ten, for the first time in three years. D.J. Newbill has been hot lately coming off his 25- point performance in Penn State’s best win of the season over Ohio State, in Columbus.
Illinois is led by local Champaign product, Rayvonte Rice. He has been their most consistent scorer during their eight-game skid. Rice is also the Fighting Illini’s leading rebounder at 5.9 rebounds per game. It’s safe to say every possession for Illinois goes through Rice.
A win is a must for both teams as they both look to fight for seeding in the Big Ten tournament. That will be a way for both of these teams to make it into the NCAA tournament. That isn’t to say one of these teams catches fire and wins out.
Illinois isn’t used to being in the cellar of the Big Ten, so it should be interesting how they carry themselves moving forward. Since the departure of Illinois’s star guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul, they have been looking for players other than Rayvonte Rice to step up. One player that has had a disappointing season is junior center Nnanna Egwu.
Last season, Egwu led the Illini in rebounding a numerous number of games and he was also the leading scorer in a few games as well. His numbers have gone up but only by one in rebound and about two in points. If he can get going that would be a huge plus for the Illinois.
Normally, the two worst teams in the Big Ten would be a sloppy game, but Penn State is an improved team from last season and Illinois is a much better team than their record indicates. Come Sunday, look for both teams to build some momentum down the last few weeks of the college basketball season.
Photo Courtesy: (AP Photo/Al Goldis)