|-8 ILL (-114) @ sportsinteraction|
My 9* play is on Illinois at 8:30 ET.
Brad Underwood made a big 'splash' at S.F. Austin and then made a one year 'pit stop' at Oklahoma St, before landing in Champaign-Urbana. The Fighting Illini were just 14-18 and 12-21 in his first two seasons but had a breakout year in going 21-10 before last season was shut down. Illinois opened the current season No. 8 in the AP's preseason poll but so far, it has NOT been 'smooth sailing.' The Illini opened 3-0 but was just 5-3 before a four-game winning streak from Dec 23 through Jan 7. However, a 66-63 home loss to Maryland on Jan 10 ended that winning run and after sitting on that loss to Maryland for six days, Illinois promptly fell behind 10-2 and 37-19 in the first half against Ohio St, of an eventual 87-81 defeat in Champaign.
Penn St was 21-10 last season but the Nittany Lions went through some turmoil right as practices started when head coach Pat Chambers resigned in late October following an investigation into inappropriate conduct. Penn State interim head coach Jim Ferry has led the Nittany Lions to an unimpressive 3-5 start, after an 87-85 overtime loss at Indiana on Dec 30. Penn State had been idle since Dec 30 (FOUR straight postponements due to COVID-19 concerns within the program) but returned to the court on Sunday in an 80-72 loss at Purdue. The Nittany Lions were predictably rusty in the first half, scoring just nine points in the first 10 minutes.
Penn St surely misses All-Big Ten forward Lamar Stevens (17.6 & 6.9) but the Nittany Lions have four players averaging in double figures; the 6-7 Izaiah Brockington (14.8 & 5.3) and the 6-7 Seth Lundy (11.9 & 3.5) plus guards Myreon Jones (15.4) and Sam Sessoms (11.5). Sessoms has come off the bench, with the 6-9 Harrar (7.9 & 7.5) and PG Wheeler (5.0-4.3.4-1) starting alongside Jones and the two 6-7 forwards. Penn St allied to take a lead later in the half against Purdue and trailed only 33-32 at intermission, but the Boilermakers started the second half with an 18-5 spurt that was simply too much for Penn State to overcome. Myreon Jones led Penn State with a career-high 23 points, while senior John Harrar enjoyed the best game of his career with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
The loss to Ohio St dropped coach Brad Underwood's team to 9-5 overall and 5-3 in the conference, and after the game, he sounded like a man who has seen enough. "I'm getting really frustrated with really poor, lack of emotion, non-competitive starts," he said to the Champaign News-Gazette. "You can't come out of a locker room and can't come out of a pregame huddle and be down 10-2. "You can't have guys not show up and not be assignment-sound and not be dialed in mentally. Right now we have that. We've got to put five guys on the floor who will be competitive, not just ride the emotional waves of good or bad. Just play." Illinois features one of the top guards in the nation in Dosunmu (22.4-6.7-4.9) plus 7-0 center Cockburn (17.1 & 10.1) has built on a successful freshman season. Dosunmu is joined in the backcourt by veterans Curbelo (8.8 & 4.4 APG), Frazier (8.4) and Williams (6.2 & 5.6) plus freshman Miller adds 9.6 PPG. The 6-9 Bezhanishvili (5.9 & 2.9) rounds out the main contributors.
Somehow, Illinois remained in the top-25 in Monday's new poll (22nd) but the Illini won't remain for long without a big (quick) turnaround. With four or five potential pros on its roster and perhaps a couple of future NBA All-Stars, No. 22 Illinois was expected to challenge for the Big Ten Conference title back in November and potentially make a deep NCAA Tournament run. It sure doesn't look like that now. That said, I don't doubt this team's talent. Lay the points.