Penn State Basketball continues quest for Big Ten win in Illinois

“They want to win.  They care,” Chambers said.  “Nobody likes losing, and that’s why I think we have a good group of guys.  Some guys might mail it in at this point.  Some guys might say, ‘oh we lost, no big deal.’  But I don’t think our kids are making any excuses.  They come out everyday to try to get better and work.  The fact that there are still tears in that locker room after losses is impressive.”

Tears in the locker room! Remember when it was a big deal because the Miami Heat were crying in the locker room? They won a title a year after that. ATTITUDE!

Anyway, that quote is worth posting because the recent efforts of Penn State in close losses to Iowa and Michigan make it apparent that the team does really care and that the players aren’t just mailing in the rest of the season. That makes me confident that the team will win a Big Ten game this season despite the lack of a really easy game on the remaining schedule. Tonight, the Lions will give it their best shot on the road against an Illinois team that has rolled off four consecutive victories.

Illini shooting guard D.J. Richardson has picked up his game lately and is a big reason for Illinois’ February surge. Through the first half of the Big Ten schedule, Richardson scored more than 15 points just twice, but during his team’s four-game winning streak, he’s eclipsed that mark three times. Richardson has even managed to shoot 48 percent form the field during that stretch (very impressive when you consider that 28 of his 50 attempts have come from three-point land), which is worlds better than his season average of 39 percent.

Last year, you knew the Illini were in trouble if star player Brandon Paul didn’t have a great game, but the team’s recent success has been in spite of some sub-par play from Paul. He combined for just 3-for-12 shooting in blowout wins against Northwestern and Purdue, and that speaks a lot of the improved play by Richardson and Tyler Griffey (double digit scoring in three of his last four games).

Fortunately for Penn State, Illinois isn’t the only team that’s playing at a higher level lately.   The Lions are actually beginning to get scoring from kids not named D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall.

If Sasa Borovnjak can continue his solid pick-and-roll work and Ross Travis gets his mid-range jump shot under control, then Penn State actually looks to have a real offense. And it even gets more fun if Newbill can shoot like he did against Iowa (unlikely, but fun to think about).

Even if all those “ifs” don’t come out in Penn State’s favor, it might be able to churn out enough offense to win tonight if the defense can keep Paul and Richardson under control. Maybe.

Prediction: Penn State 62, Illinois 70

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