Smile Politely

Illinois-Penn State preview

Penn State (6-11, 15-15)
All time:
28-13 (last: Illinois 60, Penn State 58, 1/31/15 in Champaign)
Tip-off: 11 a.m.
TV: Big Ten Network

It’s easy to lose sight of this game in light of the excitement around the football program. Illinois is locked into playing on Wednesday of the Big Ten Tournament, the play-in round, and Penn State is battling to stay out of one of those contests. But, even though Lovie Fever hit Champaign, basketball is still king for most fans.

The momentum seems to be on John Groce’s side right now as far as retaining his job, but I doubt many people expected new athletic director Josh Whitman to cut ties with Bill Cubit so shortly after his contract extension either. Winning or losing against Penn State won’t change the fact this is a miserable season, but it can provide further evidence of positive momentum for Groce.

As their record shows, PSU is beatable, but they’re no gimme for Illinois. The Nittany Lions are led by senior forward Brandon Taylor and his 16 points and 6 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Shep Gardner is on the rise and could be a star in the Big Ten soon, maybe changing Penn State’s fortunes in a season or two.

Likely lineups

Illinois: Khalid Lewis, guard; Jalen Coleman-Lands, guard; Kendrick Nunn, guard; Malcolm Hill, guard; Maverick Morgan, center

PSU: Shep Gardner, guard; Josh Greaves, guard; Payton Banks, forward; Brandon Taylor, forward; Jordan Dickerson, center

Gut feeling

Maybe a little Lovie luck will spread to the basketball team tonight, or maybe Groce will be inspired by another bald coach moving in on his turf and rally the troops. Who knows, but it’s as good a guess as any.

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