When Michigan State entered the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday, it left disappointed.
No. 16 Illinois will look to avoid the same fate Tuesday night when it takes on Penn State in Happy Valley at 9:00 P.M. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
The Nittany Lions (9-6, 2-2) have struggled at points this season, including an embarassing home loss to Maine a few weeks ago. The did manage to work the Spartans 40-36 on the glass on Saturday, however, and have established all four senior starters as legitimate options on offense, as Jeff Brooks, Talor Battle, David Jackson and Andrew Jones all reached double figures last game. All in all, Penn State looks to be playing its best basketball of the season at the moment.
Illinois might be equally as hot, however. The Fighting Illini (13-3, 3-0) shot 81% in the first half on Thursday night against Northwestern on the way to a blowout win. They've also taken their first three Big Ten games this season by an average of 14 points and breaking 85 points on offense against both Iowa and Northwestern.
Keys to the game after the jump.
When Illinois Has The Ball
- Penn State's leaky perimeter defense will likely struggle against Demetri McCamey and D.J. Richardson most of the night. If the Lions can play well defending the interior, though, as they have much of the season, they should be able to keep the game in a manageable scoring range for themselves.
- Illinois can't be afraid to heave the deep ones. Penn State's perimeter defense has been pretty bad for most of the season and is probably the most exploitable part of the Lions' game. Fortunately for the Illini, McCamey hits at north of 50% from the arc, so the potential exists for him to have a very big game if his teammates can get him the ball.
When Penn State Has The Ball
- The Lions need to keep the stellar scoring distribution from the last two games going in case Talor Battle or one of the other big scorers has a bad night. Too often, Penn State has had trouble this season when players have gotten into foul trouble or have plain had off shooting nights. The support players need to continue to focus on easing the burden on their big guns by getting on the board.
- Illinois forwards Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis should attempt to attack Jeff Brooks down low and get him into foul trouble. When he is off the floor for Penn State, the Lions struggle offensively. With a couple of quick fouls, the Illini can send him to the bench and make things much easier for themselves defensively.
Illinois certainly has the edge in talent, but Penn State is playing well right now. If the Illini don't bring it, this could be a dogfight that goes down until the very end. This is a game Illinois has to have to keep pace with red hot Ohio State and Purdue. A loss will put the Illini squarely on the second rung of the conference with Michigan State and a couple other teams, a place they certainly don't want to be.