Penn State point guard Talor Battle (#12) has been a thorn in the side of Illinois basketball throughout his Big Ten career.

Fighting the Fighting Illini: Previewing the Penn State Nittany Lions

Coming off the best shooting performance in more than 100 years of Illinois basketball, the Illini are feeling very confident as they head to State College to face Penn State tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. CT.

Here is a look at this year’s Penn State squad, led by senior point guard Talor Battle.

Penn State Nittany Lions Season at Glance

After finishing last in the conference in 2009-2010, Penn State can be considered one of, if not the, biggest surprises thus far in conference play.

The Nittany Lions are 2-2 in the Big Ten, boasting wins against Indiana and #19 Michigan State while falling to #10 Purdue and a talented Michigan team that took #3 Kansas into overtime yesterday.

The Nittany Lions had a comfortable 9-point win against the Hoosiers in their conference opener. While Indiana has not been much of a threat to anyone in the conference this season, it is still never easy to win in Bloomington.

Against #19 Michigan State, the Nittany Lions never backed down. They took advantage of a poor performance from the Spartans at the free throw line and made two huge shots at the end of the game to pull off the upset.

The Nittany Lions almost pulled off another upset earlier at Michigan, but they fell apart late and the Wolverines pulled out the win.

Against Purdue, the Nittany Lions never really showed up and the Boilermakers blew them out in a 15 point victory.

Penn State was 7-4 in the non-conference portion of its schedule.

While they won the games that they were favored to win, they were unable to beat anyone from a major conference, losing to Mississippi, Maryland, and Virginia Tech.

Record: 9-6 (2-2 in the Big Ten)

Combined Record of Teams Penn State Has Beaten: 80-58

Combined Record of Teams Penn State Has Lost to: 66-26

Best Win: Michigan State (1/8/2011)

Coming into this game, Penn State had lost its last two games and was facing its second ranked opponent in a four game stretch of top 25 foes.

Instead of giving up against the Spartans, the Nittany Lions kept the game close and made two huge baskets in the last minute to keep Michigan State at bay.

Game the Nittany Lions Would Like to Have Back: Maine (12/21/2010)

Penn State came out flat at home against the Black Bears, a so-so team from the America East Conference.

The Nittany Lions were down seven points at the half and did not lead the entire second half.

While Penn State has proven that it can hang in with good teams when everyone comes to play, the Nittany Lions do not have the depth to make up for when its starters do not come to play.

Penn State Players Familiar to Illinois Fans: Penn State returns the bulk of its team from a disappointing 11-20 season. Much like Illinois, the Nittany Lions are led by their senior point guard, Talor Battle (6-0, 170). Battle is a two-time All-Big Ten player who could be selected in the NBA draft after this season. He leads his team in scoring (20.5 PPG), and is second in assists (3.2 APG) and rebounds (5.2 RPG). The Nittany Lions often go as Battle goes, and when he struggles, the rest of their team often struggles as well.

The other player who stands out for the Nittany Lions is senior power forward Jeff Brooks (6-8, 200). Brooks is second on the team in points (13.7) and leads Penn State in rebounds (8.1) and blocks (1.8) per game.

Redshirt senior David Jackson (6-7, 210) is the only other player who averages more than 6 points per game.

Other than their three seniors, Penn State is a relatively young team, with only one junior with a scholarship on the roster.

Key Freshman: Taran Buie (6-2, 185) is the highest-rated recruit the Nittany Lions have secured in recent history and is averaging 5.8 points and 5.0 rebounds a game.

Key Departures: Penn State did not graduate any of its top six scorers from last year, but the Nittany Lions did lose junior Chris Babb, who transferred to Iowa State.

Recapping Penn State Versus Illinois Last Season: Penn State has given Illinois plenty of trouble recently, and although the Illini won both games last season, they were much closer than they should have been.

When the Nittany Lions visited the Fighting Illini in Champaign, Illinois squeeked out a 54-53 win in a low-scoring game. Mike Tisdale saved the day as he blocked a shot by Battle as the clock ran out to stop the upset. Review the Writing Illini Tale of the Tape.

Illinois had a wider margin of victory when the two teams met at Penn State, with the Illini winning 77-67. However, late free throws by the Illini made the score look more lopsided than the actual contest. Illinois scored 12 points in the final 1:47 to stave off Penn State’s comeback attempt. Review the Writing Illini Tale of the Tape.

Tomorrow’s Prediction: Illinois 72, Penn State 66

While the winning margin for Illinois should be much more, this game has upset written all over it.

With a very tough road game against Wisconsin looming, Illinois can’t look past Penn State.

Luckily for the Illini, Penn State’s recent upset of Michigan State should help the team take the Nittany Lions more seriously and stay focused.

The Illini will likely have a hard time keeping their amazing shooting percentages going.

As the three-pointers are harder to come by, Illinois will benefit greatly from its new dedication to ball penetration and also take advantage at the charity stripe.

The extra points, along with another domination on the boards, will help the Illini move to 4-0 in the Big Ten.

What I Would Like To See Tomorrow Night

A repeat of Northwestern. While it’s not realistic to expect every game to have such ridiculously high shooting percentages, the Illini can continue to defend as well as they did against the Wildcats, move the ball, and get to the free throw line early and often.

Limit turnovers. Illinois shot so well in its last two games that turnovers did not hurt the team. With that said, the Illini turned the ball over 34 times in the last two games while their opponents only turned the ball over 12 times. Illinois can not keep having empty possessions and giving up fast breaks to their opponents if they want to stay in contention for a Big Ten title.

Good full-court offense. The Missouri loss showed the world that Illinois does not handle full court pressure very well. Iowa took notice and actually gave the Illini a good game. Were it not for the Illini’s superb 3-point shooting, that game could have ended badly. Expect more full court pressure from Penn State. Battle has the ability to play very tough, full-court defense all game and Penn State always plays Illinois close. There will be no room for costly turnovers on inbound plays tomorrow.

Brandon Paul looking for the pass. Paul still has a bit of a shoot-first mentality, and when Demetri McCamey is on the bench, the offense slows with the ball in his hands. Paul needs to look to drive and kick the ball instead of always trying to get the basket, and when he does pass, make crisp passes instead of the high lobs that defenders love to pick off.

More bench playing time. It was great to see the bench get quality minutes against Northwestern. Meyers Leonard got his most minutes since the preseason and translated that into a career-high 11 points, and Joseph Bertrand, Tyler Griffey, and Crandall Head all got good experience as well. If Illinois can continue to give these players more game experience, it will not only help come March but next year as well.

Well, that’s all for now.

Writing Illini will do a live blog of the game tomorrow.

Until then.

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Tags: Assembly Hall Bill Cole Brandon Paul Bruce Weber Chris Babb Crandall Head D.J. Richardson David Jackson Demetri McCamey Ed Dechellis Illini Illini Basketball Illinois Illinois Basketball Illinois Fighting Illini Basketball Jeff Brooks Jereme Richmond Jerrance Howard Joseph Bertrand Meyers Leonard Mike Davis Mike Tisdale Penn State Basketball Penn State Nittany Lions Talor Battle Taran Buie Tyler Griffey U-of-I Basketball University Of Illinois

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