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Staff Predictions: No. 9 Penn State Hoops vs. Illinois

No. 9 Penn State men’s basketball (20-5, 10-4 Big Ten) will attempt to win its ninth consecutive game when it welcomes Illinois (16-9, 8-6 Big Ten) to the Bryce Jordan Center at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 18.

The Nittany Lions are officially back in the top 10 of the AP poll for the first time since 1996 after taking down Purdue and Northwestern this past week. The Illini, on the other hand, have fallen out of the top 25 after dropping their last four contests. Despite that, Illini head coach Brad Underwood has led his team to an impressive season thus far and will likely be a tough challenge for Pat Chambers’ group.

While Illinois is clearly a strong team, our staff expects Lamar Stevens and co. to stay hot in front of a rowdy home crowd Tuesday night.

Andy Mollenauer: Penn State 72, Illinois 70

After a four-game skid that resulted in dropping from No. 19 to out of the top 25, the Illini are surely frustrated, and what better way to prove themselves than coming out strong against one of the hottest teams in the nation? I think Illinois will put up a fight, but, ultimately, the Nittany Lions will prevail and keep their winning streak alive.

Penn State is simply superior, statistically speaking. While Illinois has a slight edge in points against per game, Penn State is scoring more points per game and leads in key categories such as blocks and steals, both of which will be the most pivotal ticks on the stat sheet in pulling off the win against a desperate and slumping team.

Frankie Marzano: Penn State 69, Illinois 58

Penn State is riding an eight-game winning streak in the Big Ten. I think the excitement about being ranked No. 9 will get the fans going again and make the BJC a tough atmosphere for Illinois. Penn State has proven in these last few weeks it has enough depth to win without a big performance from Lamar Stevens and without Myreon Jones.

Illinois, on the other hand, is on a four-game losing streak, most recently against Rutgers on the road. I expect Illinois to come out with a burst of energy to start the game, but given how hard it is to win on the road in the Big Ten this year, I don’t think it will be able to keep up the same energy throughout the rest of the game. The Nittany Lions will handle Illinois and get the win streak up to nine games heading into Indiana this weekend.

Gabe Angieri: Penn State 79, Illinois 68

Penn State comes into this game on an eight-game winning streak, while Illinois has lost its last four. The Nittany Lions have been dominant at the BJC this year with a 13-1 record and I think that dominance will continue against the Illini, who are just 4-5 on the road this season. Even if second-leading scorer Myreon Jones is out, Penn State has proved that it can win without him thanks to other players stepping up, such as Myles Dread and Seth Lundy. The Nittany Lions should be able to take care of business and improve their winning streak to nine.

Matt Noah: Penn State 84, Illinois 68

The Nittany Lions are currently within one game of Maryland in the Big Ten standings and could claim first place with a win Tuesday. The Illini stand in their way as a viable opponent, despite a four-game slide, all against Big Ten teams. Penn State didn’t have the strongest showing against Northwestern on Saturday but still won convincingly. The team needs to find more consistent shots, as shooting 11-31 from behind the arc may not be the solution to beating a talented Illinois squad.

The Illini have played well defensively, but will have a hard time slowing down the Nittany Lions, who can score with a variety of different players and strategies. Penn State is the better team on both sides of the ball and with home court advantage will pull away from the start.

Otis Lyons: Penn State 74, Illinois 62

It seems as if there is no end in sight to this Penn State winning streak. At eight straight victories, only eight out of 353 teams in the nation hold a better win streak. Of that list, only Kansas and Baylor hail from a conference that will place more than two or three teams in the tournament.

As Mike Watkins and John Harrar continue their smooth rotations in the post, all role players shoot lights out from three, and Jamari Wheeler plays the best defense of anyone in the Big Ten, it is tough to see Illinois go into a presumably packed BJC and come away victorious — especially considering star player Ayo Dosunmu is questionable to plsy.

Penn State also has this guy named Lamar Stevens. If the Nittany Lions star puts up 20, and each of the Joneses, Dread, and Brockington combine for eight or more threes, the win streak should push to nine.

Richard Smeltzer: Penn State 70, Illinois 60

The Illini have been a very respectable team this season, at one point going on a seven-game winning streak. However, they are currently in the midst of a four-game slide heading into Tuesday’s contest. Contrast this with the run of dominance the Nittany Lions have been on, and this matchup simply doesn’t bode well for Illinois. I predict the Nittany Lions to continue their winning streak backed by a passionate home crowd, with Lamar Stevens having a very big game. Penn State by 10.

Trevor Grady: Penn State 75, Illinois 66

The Nittany Lions received their highest ranking in the AP poll since the 1995-1996 season coming in at No. 9, and Pat Chambers’ squad will be energized on Tuesday night. Some may say that they are peaking just a bit too early, but if we have learned anything from this college basketball season, it is to throw common opinion out the window.

Pat Chambers has his guys playing at an elite level, and I don’t expect anything to change in this one. I expect a comfortable lead going into halftime, and a nine-point victory in the end.

Will Pegler: Penn State 69, Illinois 62

Illinois is on a four-game losing streak and is going to be hungry for a win on Tuesday night. Despite the four losses, Brad Underwood’s squad has managed to keep most of the games close and stay competitive thanks to scrappy defensive play. I don’t think that style of play will change against Penn State.

I expect the Nittany Lions to get off to a bit of a slow start and Illinois to take a fairly commanding lead within the first few minutes. Penn State’s defense will wake up, though, and a few big plays from Jamari Wheeler and John Harrar will lead to some instant offense for Pat Chambers’ group. In one of his final games at the BJC, I also expect Lamar Stevens to pace Penn State on offense and keep his team alive during otherwise slow offensive possessions.

This game will be close down to the final minutes, but a couple of clutch free throws from Stevens, Harrar, and even Myles Dread will give Penn State its ninth win in a row.

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