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Penn State Basketball: Penn State, Illinois to Continue Close Series Thursday

by on January 18, 2012 2:37 PM

Penn State and No. 25 Illinois will add another chapter Thursday to one of the closest series in the Big Ten over the last four years. Tip at the Bryce Jordan Center is scheduled for 9 p.m.

History

Five of the last eight games played between the two teams have been decided by two points or less, including four one-point games since 2008. Penn State has won three of its last four meetings against a ranked Illinois team.

Quotable

First-year Penn State coach Pat Chambers has yet to be a part of the close and intense series between these two teams. Until a few days ago, he was aware of only one of the uglier games the matchup has produced.

"I had heard about the low one," Chambers said, alluding to a 38-33 Nittany Lion victory in 2009. "If that's me, we're taking that win and running out of the gym. We won't even have a press conference," he said, laughing.

Gameplan

In order to win what should be a close game, Penn State will need yet another strong performance from Tim Frazier, who has scored 20 points or better in three-straight games. Frazier’s nine games with 20 points or better this season leads all Big Ten players.

Illinois is coming off a 79-74 victory over then-fifth-ranked Ohio State just nine days ago. Junior guard Brandon Paul scored 43 points, including eight 3-pointers, to help lift the Illini over Ohio State. Other notable victories include a 71-62 win over Maryland and 82-75 triumph over 18th-ranked Gonzaga.

Luckily for Penn State, Illinois is a team that the Nittany Lions should match up well against. The Illini average only 68 points a game, good enough for 170th in the nation. Penn State will look to pressure Illinois into turnovers and mistakes, hoping to bring that number within the 63 points a game the Nittany Lions average. If the defensive pressure isn't there, Penn State runs the risk of letting Illinois take advantage of its ability to shoot the ball at almost 50 percent accuracy.

Penn State will also greatly improve its chances of victory if the team is able to get contributions from Billy Oliver, who has slumped since Big Ten play started. The Lions will also need to take advantage of their strong rebounding ability in order to ensure few second-chance points by Illinois.

Matchup to watch

Tim Frazier and Brandon Paul: two players who have traditionally not been the focal points of his respective team. Heading to the the 2011-12 season, both Frazier and Paul have stepped up their games and will provide those watching with another premiere battle between two of the conference's best players.

Prediction

Illinois has had nine days to get ready for the Nittany Lions after its upset victory over Ohio State. That being said, the combination of Penn State's deceptive record and a long layover since its last game could make the Illini ripe for an upset. Penn State and Illinois have a long history of close and hard-fought battles. There is no reason to expect this to change any time soon.

Penn State 73, Illinois 70

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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