Big Ten leading scorer Rayvonte Rice and the Illinois Fighting Illini return to action this afternoon at The State Farm Center when they clash with the Penn State Nittany Lions in the second conference game for each team. This match-up will boast the Big Ten’s top two leading scorers in Rice (19 ppg) and D.J. Newbill (18.8 ppg).
The Illini are coming off an 83-80 overtime victory following a back and forth battle against heated rival Indiana. Rayvonte Rice was once again dynamic, scoring 29 points in the victory. As a result of this performance, Rice was named Big Ten Player of the Week for the second time this season. Obviously, 29 points doesn’t win a game, though, and it’s worth mentioning that Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand have been doing their jobs from a scoring perspective as well. Against Indiana, the three Illini guards combined for 59 of the Illini’s 80 points.
The Nittany Lions are coming off a reality check loss to Michigan State that looked awfully similar to Illinois’ recent match-up with UIC. Penn State hung 47 points on the #5 team in the nation and led by 7 at the half, but then the Spartan defense locked down on PSU in the second half while only allowing the Nittany Lions to score 16 points in the second stanza.
Penn State is led in scoring by the aforementioned Newbill, but that’s not where their scoring ends. They also have the Big Ten’s 7th leading scorer in Tim Frazier (17.4 ppg). The two combine to lead the nation as a scoring duo and they represent the toughest pair of guards the Illini will have faced this season. All told, Penn State has 5 players currently scoring in double figures with Newbill and Frazier leading the way. Other players to watch are Ross Travis (11.4 ppg), Brandon Taylor (11.3 ppg), and John Johnson (11 ppg). PSU will go 8 deep in their rotation, but their top 7 get the lion’s share of the minutes.
This game is going to come down to defensive intensity across the board from the Illini because Penn State can clearly score the basketball. When the Illini are in man defense Tracy Abrams will most likely handle Tim Frazier, and Rayvonte Rice will most likely be tasked with slowing down D.J. Newbill. Honestly, I like the match-ups in Illinois’ favor because Rice and Abrams have proven they can lock down when necessary. That’s not to say it’s going to be easy by any stretch, but I just like potential All-Big Ten Defensive POY candidate Rice’s chances in this one.
Three Things I’d Like to See Today:
1. Total Team Defensive Effort From the Tip - Penn State can score. It’s well documented. The Spartans showed the way to victory by holding Frazier to 7 points, and holding PSU to 16 as a team in the 2nd half of their match-up. If Illinois can bring the intensity from the opening tip the Illini will have a great shot of improving to 2-0 in the conference.
2. Rayvonte Rice and Tracy Abrams Attack the Basket - Odds are good that Newbill and Frazier will be guarding Rice and Abrams. Attacking the basket is where the Illini excel. If Rice and Abrams attack early and often the odds are good that the PSU duo of Frazier and Newbill will find themselves in foul trouble. Getting them off the floor with foul trouble is even more effective than having to lock down on them defensively.
3. Win the Rebounding Battle! - I’m going to keep harping on this one until the Illini actually do it! They have been close in recent contests, but have not been able to get the job done. PSU was out-rebounded 45-26 against MSU, and were out-rebounded in 4 of their 5 losses. Control the glass, beat the Nittany Lions.
When: Saturday, January 4, 2014 @ 1:15 CST.
Where: State Farm Center – Champaign-Urbana, IL
TV: BTN (Directv 610 / DISH Network 439)
Announcers: Josh Lewin (Play by Play) & Shon Morris (Analyst)
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer.