Penn State Nittany Lions (17-9) at Illinois Fighting Illini (12-13)
We came up a little bit short last night when we backed UCLA playing at Arizona State. The Bruins took a big step back in their quest to take the Pac 12 regular season title as they dropped the road game in Tempe. The final score was Arizona State 88-79, and the Sun Devils were able to cover the 4.5-point spread.
This sets up Arizona very well to walk away with the Pac 12 regular season title as they now hold a full two-game lead over UCLA and USC. Today I will shift focus from the Pac 12 to the Big 10 as I break down the matchup between Penn State and Illinois.
The Penn State Nittany Lions will travel to Champaign to face the Fighting Illini in a Big 10 matchup. Penn State has played very well in Big 10 league play this season and hold a 7-6 record in conference. The Nittany Lions have won four out their last five league games and are poised to get an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
Illinois has just two wins in Big 10 play this season and are struggling badly to stay competitive against the upper echelon of the league this season. The Nittany Lions are -2-point road favorites. The game total over-under is set at 145 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:00 PM PST from Assembly Hall.
The Penn State Nittany Lions have acquitted themselves very well in the Big 10 this season. They hold league wins against Northwestern, Nebraska, Ohio State, Rutgers, Iowa twice, and Maryland. Two of those wins, against Ohio State and Iowa, were on the road.
Even though beating a last place Illinois might not seem like a big win at this point, if they were to drop this game to a bad Illini team it would be an ugly blemish on their record that could really hurt their at-large status for the NCAA tournament.
The Nittany Lions are as balanced as any team in the Big 10 this season, as all five of their starters are averaging double digits scoring. Penn State’s leader on the floor has been guard Tony Carr.
Carr is averaging 19 points, 4.9 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game, all while shooting 46% from beyond the arc. Carr is probably the best player in the Big 10 that nobody is talking about and when he plays his best game, this team is very hard to beat.
Fellow Nittany Lion sophomore Lamar Stevens is also having a spectacular season. The forward is going for 16 points and 6 boards a game and has had some huge games in league play.
Stevens dropped 30 against Northwestern, 26 against Nebraska, and 25 against Maryland, all Penn State victories. If Stevens has a big game tonight, the Nittany Lions could win this game easily. They will need a full effort from him tonight to win a road game in league play.
There aren’t too many good things that can be said about what Illinois is doing in Big 10 play. They started the season out fairly well actually. They ran out to a 6-0 start in the non-conference, but it has all been downhill since then. Home teams are always going to play well in league games, but even at home in Big 10 play, the Illini have struggled.
Illinois has lost home games this season to Maryland, Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. They did manage to pick up both of their league wins at home, against Rutgers and Indiana, but neither of those wins are really something to brag about. However, even with their struggles to win games, the Illini have been fairly competitive against most teams.
They lost to Nebraska and Maryland both by just one point, so that nasty win/loss record could be a little bit better had they caught a couple breaks. The line tonight is a tight one, and there won’t be much opportunity for them to lose close and cover, getting only two points on their home floor.
If you read my daily picks often, you know that I love backing home underdogs, especially in conference games. The home team always seems to perform much better than anyone thinks they are going to, and when I get a chance to back a home team, getting points, I rarely pass it up. That being said, I am backing the road team tonight in Illinois.
I just have zero faith in this Fighting Illini team, and Penn State is playing very well right now. The Nittany Lions have won four out of their last five games, with the lone loss being a competitive game on the road against a top-five ranked Michigan State team. The road win against Ohio State looked great at the time and is only looking better and better as Ohio State is emerging as a possible national championship contender.
This game will be close. Home teams just don’t get blown out very often. And to give Illinois credit, they don’t get blown out very often either. But I just can’t back them tonight against what is a sneaky good Penn State team. Give me the Penn State Nittany Lions on the road laying -2-points. It feels like 74-66 Penn State.