Raise your hand if you thought Penn State would be competing for a Big Ten title this season. I’m not sure I believe even the Penn State fans that have their hands up. Here we are, though, and that is why we play the game.
The Nittany Lions will put their eight-game winning streak on the line Tuesday night when they host free falling Illinois, losers of four consecutive games.
The losses haven’t just come on the scoreboard for Illinois, who has was without star guard Ayo Dosunmu in their game against Rutgers last weekend after a nasty spill against Michigan State, which left some thinking he had tore his knee up. Luckily, that is not the case, and the guard is still listed day-to-day heading into this contest.
Without Dosunmu, Illinois managed just 57 points at the RAC against Rutgers on Saturday, shooting just 19-61 from the field, good for just 31%.
Rutgers may be good, but Penn State is a different animal (two more things I bet you didn’t think you’d hear this season). Lamar Stevens is a legitimate college basketball star that can score at all three levels.
Mike Watkins is one of the best big men in the Big Ten. Myles Dread has also provided some perimeter scoring lately, making 10 triples in his last three games.
Penn State is a 6.5-point favorite at home, with the over/under set at 139.5.
There is a lot less fight without Ayo
Simply put, as Ayo goes, so goes Illinois. From a betting standpoint, however, they fairly mediocre even with him. The Fighting Illini are just 12-11-1 against the spread on the season and 3-6 straight up as a dog.
They do have a winning record of 5-4 against the spread on the road, however, which is a nod to their defense that has kept the total under in 14 of their 24 games this season, including four of their last six games.
Hear them roar
Few things are more frightening than a lion, and this lion has been successfully taking down prey for weeks. It hasn’t matter who (Michigan State, Michigan), it hasn’t mattered where (at Purdue), they are just feasting.
Penn State is 13-1 straight up at home this season and 15-3 SU as a favorite. The Nittany Lions are also the best cover team in the Big Ten at 16-8-1 against the spread, covering by an average of +2.8 points per game.
During the current eight-game streak, they are 7-0-1 ATS. The total is where they get a little unpredictable at just 13-12 o/u this season, including 7-7 at home, but have gone under in five of their last seven games overall.
Without Dosunmu, Illinois just doesn’t have the horses
While some teams sometimes get complacent during winning streaks, Penn State is actually improving. The Nittany Lions have averaged more than a point per possession in each of their last five games, including 1.28 PPP in West Lafayette, which is one of the most difficult places to play in the nation.
Dosunmu not only leads this Illinois team in scoring, but he also sets the pace for everything they do defensively as well with his long wingspan and coach Brad Underwood’s up-tempo style. If he doesn’t play, I don’t see a way that the Illini keep this game close.
Especially if Dread and Lundy are making threes for Penn State, where Illinois ranks 170th in the nation in defending the arc. Penn State should cover this easily, play the under.