Illinois has come in to its own of late. A team that was once an after-thought in college basketball has shown a tenacity to beat good teams.
This weekend, the Illini honor one of the greatest teams of all-time, the Flyin’ Illini, while playing one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. At 3-12 in conference play, Penn State looks to be another notch in the win column for the Illini. That said, this team also beat Michigan a few weeks back, so the Illini will need to be on guard if they hope to take down Penn State.
What exactly will the Illini need to do to keep Champaign poppin’ with the Flyin’ Illini in town?
Shut Down Lamar Stevens
Stevens, in February, is averaging over 20 points per game, nine rebounds, and hasn’t been the brightest star for Penn State. His ability to get to the basket is a talent the Illini have struggled with all season long. Whether it be back-door cuts or open lanes, Illinois is still learning how best to keep the opponents out of the paint. The Illinois forwards and centers must keep the lane closed and the back door shut if they hope to move to 7-9 in conference play.
Guard Play Is Key
Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier have found ways to play together late in the season. What was once a deficiency in the Illinois game has become its strength. Add in the play of Feliz, Jones, Jordan, and Williams and this team features one of the best sets of guards, not only now, but for the future. I’d like to see Ayo and Trent be fierce Saturday. Don’t shy away from the shot. This team succeeds when these two guards take an active role in leadership. Bring the other guards up with you and run the court on Saturday.
Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Our National Treasure
Speaking of leaders, is there anyone more fun to watch than Giorgi B.? Both actually in the game and on the bench, the guy is exciting. He makes cheering for teammates look like an absolute blast. Bezhanishvili is one of those guys who can pick up a down game with his attitude. I’m a firm believer in the power of positivity. Giorgi has enough to light up Chicago. Let him lead the team around the rim, get the ball down low when you can, capitalize on his ability and toughness. A double-double should be the goal here Saturday.
Penn State, no offense, has looked dreadful. They have shown the ability to score, but that defense is awful. Illinois should have a packed house and a loud crowd to push them to the finish line. Good guys win, 82-68.