A players-only meeting in mid-season isn't usually a good sign. Following a third consecutive loss, the Illini met Sunday afternoon. Coach Bruce Weber took a wait-and-see attitude in his search for leadership and consistency, and the Illini play at Penn State on Wednesday in their first game after the attempt to get the season turned in the right direction.

A players-only meeting in mid-season isn't usually a good sign.

Following a third consecutive loss, the Illini met Sunday afternoon. Coach Bruce Weber took a wait-and-see attitude in his search for leadership and consistency, and the Illini play at Penn State on Wednesday in their first game after the attempt to get the season turned in the right direction.

After Weber named captains to start the season, he decided this week to turn the decision over to the players. The team voted to name junior guard Demetri McCamey and junior forward Bill Cole as captains.

With all that in mind, here are three things to consider heading into the Penn State game.
Who wants it more?

A surprise NCAA Tournament team last season, Illinois had aspirations of climbing the ladder by adding a talented freshman class. Three months into the season, Illinois keeps falling farther away from the NCAA Tournament. Suffering six of the eight losses by six points or less has taken a toll on the Illini.

"There's no doubt it's frustrating,'' Weber said. "We've been in basically every game. We can get this thing solved and move forward. Until we do it on the court in a game, it's all going to be rhetoric and no substance to it.''

While fans debate next year's prospects and the coach's performance, the Illini say they haven't given up on this year's slim hopes of returning to the NCAAs.

"Everybody is doubting us,'' said reserve forward Dominique Keller, the only scholarship senior on the roster. "We've been getting a lot of bad publicity. (Fans) feel like we're giving up. We haven't given up on each other and haven't given up on the season.''

Penn State remained the only team without a Big Ten win after blowing a 16-point lead in the final 11 minutes in regulation during an overtime loss at Wisconsin on Sunday.

"You would think they'd be pretty low,'' Weber said. "Maybe they take it as a rallying point.''

Spreading the minutes

Weber needs to ease the workload on McCamey and center Mike Tisdale, two reliable scorers who have piled up the minutes in league play. McCamey averages 36.3 minutes in Big Ten games, and Tisdale's 31 minutes per game is trimmed only because of persistent foul trouble. Resting them is troublesome for Weber, who relies upon their offense.

McCamey has accounted for 48 percent of Illinois’ offense in conference play, scoring 118 points and assisting on another 110 points. In the last five games, he's averaged 20 points and been on the court 93 percent of the time. With forward Mike Davis slumping, Tisdale is the only interior player consistently scoring.

"Tisdale and Demetri, we have to be smarter with their playing time,'' Weber said. "These are two guys who can get some points. In the long run, the rest would help them. Maybe they have a little more energy down the stretch in games and the season.''

Freshman forward Tyler Griffey earned more playing time with his work ethic in practice and production in game action (12 points, seven rebounds at Michigan State). Finding help on the perimeter is more problematic. Reserve guard Jeff Jordan isn't a scoring threat, and other options aren't reliable ballhandlers.
Historical perspective

It's hard for much of the Big Ten footprint to get excited about a win over Penn State in basketball. Yet a win shouldn't be expected by the Illini, who had lost four of the last five games against the Nittany Lions before a 54-53 victory 15 days ago in Assembly Hall.

Four of the last five games between Illinois and Penn State were decided by one point and the last seven meetings by six points or less. Penn State began the string of success by edging No. 6 Illinois by one point in 2006 in a loss that cost the Illini a share of the Big Ten title.

"They feel like they have a hex on us,'' Weber said. "We got over that and won the last one. It will be interesting how they react to it.''

Cavernous Bryce Jordan Center lacks the intensity and excitement found elsewhere in the Big Ten. The spacious home court for Penn State adds little to the atmosphere.

"There's not a lot of energy in the arena like there is other places,'' Tisdale said, "but it's a tough place to play. We struggle there.''

That’s putting it mildly. No one on the Illini roster has played in a win at Penn State.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.

Illinois (12-8, 4-3) vs. Penn State (8-11, 0-7)
5:30 p.m., Bryce Jordan Center (15,261), State College, Pa. (BTN, Illini Sports Network)
ILLINOIS (12-8, 4-3)   ppg     rpg
F Mike Davis Jr. 6-9 10.9 9.3
F Bill Cole Jr. 6-9 3.4 2.9
C Mike Tisdale Jr. 7-1 11.9 6.0
G Demetri McCamey Jr. 6-3 15.4 3.1
G D.J. Richardson Fr. 6-3 10.8 2.8
PENN STATE (8-11, 0-7)     ppg   rpg
F David Jackson Jr. 6-7 8.2 4.7
C Andrew Ott Jr. 6-10 4.2 2.4
G Talor Battle Jr. 6-0 19.1 5.6
G Chris Babb So. 6-5 8.1 3.7
G Bill Edwards Fr. 5.7 4.2
Noteworthy: Illinois leads the series 22-11 but has lost four of the last six meetings with Penn State. Illinois has a two-game losing streak in State College, although both games were one-point decisions. . . McCamey needs 15 points to become the 42nd player in school history to score 1,000 points or more. . . Richardson tied career highs with 17 points and five rebounds against Northwestern on Saturday. . . In the first meeting against Penn State, McCamey scored 25 points while Tisdale had 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks. . . In Big Ten play, Battle ranks third in scoring (19.6), fourth in assists (4.0), 11th in steals (1.3) and 18th in rebounding (5.1). In all, he ranks in the top 20 in nine statistical categories. He leads the Big Ten with 39.3 minutes per game. But Battle was 4-for-19 for nine points in the loss at Illinois on Jan. 12.
Key for Illini: Play smart, stay out of foul trouble and go to the bench for help.
Key for Nittany Lions: Get more out of Battle than the first meeting with the Illini.
Key quote: "We're going to be more positive with each other, help each other out, just play harder and play to win, (rather than) not to lose.'' – Illinois center Mike Tisdale.
Prediction: Illinois 66, Penn State 64