Why? Because the Badgers are a Big Ten team, and at this point, any Big Ten team should be able to beat Penn State. And beyond Wisconsin’s simple status as a Big Ten team, they are a very good Big Ten team — deserving of their third place spot in the standings. But, as last season was so keen on pointing out, no game against Penn State is a guaranteed win, as the Jon Leuer-led squad fell not once but twice, both at Penn State during the regular season and then in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in what may have been the worst game in college basketball history.
But it is a new season, which sees a new coach in Penn State in Pat Champers, a new star guard in Tim Frazier, and ideally for Bo Ryan’s squad, a new fate for the Badgers in State College.
Tim Frazier has stepped into the role Talor Battle left last season and, like Battle, is scoring in droves. Unlike Battle, the scoring hasn’t quite come too efficiently. Both show a ruthless ability to get to the free throw line, but Battle was safer with the ball (about one fewer turnover than Frazier per game) and shot much better percentages, shooting 42.3% (55.8% true shooting) against Frazier’s 40.4% (49.7% true shooting). Where Battle possessed a three-point shot that forced defenders to close out quickly — 36.9% his senior year — Frazier doesn’t have the range, making just 17 of 60 threes (28.3%) on the season.
In order to score 17.9 points and dish 6.3 assists per game with the talent surrounding him is an accomplishment for the junior guard, it just isn’t a winning equation. If he had players he could feel comfortable in deferring to, the Nittany Lions would be much better off, but instead Frazier is forced to take loads of shots, many of them with a high to nearly impossible degree of difficulty.
Frazier’s lack of help is simple: all of two players on the Nittany Lions roster sport an effective field goal percentage greater than 50% — that is, only these two (Billy Oliver and Sasa Borovnjak) average more than one point per shot from the field. So while Frazier likely has the talent to shoot, say, 45% from the field and average an efficient 15 or 16 points instead of a miss-riddled 18, the team is actually better off with him killing his percentages to get to 18 because nobody else on the team can do anything more productive the shot attempts.
All of which adds up to the standard Wisconsin prognosis: hit any reasonable percentage of shots and win the game. The Badgers have returned to their excellent defensive form of late and only Nebraska owns a lower in-conference offensive efficiency than the Nittany Lions. Vegas lines favor the Badgers by 10 points for good reason. Wisconsin should head into the weekend’s potentially conference-defining matchup against Ohio State riding a seven-game winning streak; if not, the now-revitalized chances of winning a conference championship all but die in Pennsylvania.