After a tough double-overtime loss to Indiana, Wisconsin Basketball hosts a tough Penn State squad on Saturday.
In case you haven’t found out by now, there are no easy games in the Big Ten this season. In all likelihood, Wisconsin’s tilt with Penn State at the Kohl Center on Saturday won’t be an exception.
While the Badgers are coming off of a soul-crushing loss in double overtime against Indiana on Tuesday, the Nittany Lions might be playing their best basketball of the season. They’ve won three in a row and four of their last five, including victories over No. 9 Michigan and, most recently, No. 17 Maryland on Wednesday. In their 78-61 thumping of the Terps, the Nittany Lions at one point led by as many as 29 points.
Needless to say, this is a very confident basketball team right now.
However, Wisconsin has dominated Penn State in recent years, winning 10 in a row against the Nittany Lions by an average of 11 points. In the most recent meeting between the programs, the Badgers came out with a 71-52 victory in Happy Valley back on January 6.
Will Wisconsin continue that success on Saturday, or will this hot Penn State squad knock off the Badgers on their home floor?
No. 19 WISCONSIN (19-9)
G – D’Mitrik Trice – SO (12.5 ppg)
G – Brad Davison- SO (11.2 ppg)
F – Khalil Iverson – SR (5.7 ppg)
F – Nathan Reuvers – SO (8.4 ppg)
C – Ethan Happ – SR (17.9 ppg)
PENN STATE (12-16)
G – Jamari Wheeler – SO (3.4 ppg)
G – Myles Dread – FR (9.0 ppg)
G – Josh Reaves – SR (10.0 ppg)
F – John Harrar – SO (3.4 ppg)
F – Lamar Stevens – JR (19.9 ppg)
Keys to the game and prediction
As has been the case for most of Wisconsin’s opponents this season, Penn State really struggled to get anything going offensively in the last meeting between the teams. The Nittany Lions were just 20-53 (just under 38 percent) from the field, including an abysmal 4-20 from downtown. To make matters worse, they also turned to ball over 16 times. While Penn State has been cooking over their last handful of games, I would expect Wisconsin to once again play lockdown defense on Saturday afternoon and slow the Nittany Lions’ roll significantly.
If head coach Pat Chambers’ group is going to have a real chance to knock off the Badgers, it’s a necessity that star forward Lamar Stevens needs to step up and carry the load. Luckily for the Nittany Lions, Stevens is the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 19.9 points per game and has been scorching hot lately, scoring 20 or more points in Penn State’s last ten games. He had a decent outing the last time against Wisconsin, putting up 22 points on 9-18 shooting from the field.
That being said, even if Stevens continues his current tear, he needs teammates in the backcourt such as Myles Dread and Josh Reaves to do their fair share. Those two combined for just 15 points during the game in January, a sum that will need to be significantly higher to get the win Saturday.
How well Wisconsin takes care of the ball will also be key in this one. Penn State is No. 2 in forcing turnovers during conference play, a strength that was on full display on Wednesday when the Nittany Lions got Maryland to turn it over 17 times. However, I’m not sure they will able to lean as much on that to get the win over the Badgers, who are the nation’s third-best team at taking care of the ball.
Lastly, as usual, keep an eye on Wisconsin’s success from beyond the arc. The Badgers have been relatively cold from three as of late, which was especially glaring against Indiana. In the loss to the Hoosiers, they were 6-22 overall and went into a horrible 1-12 slump at one point in the second half. A team that has lived and died by the three this season, performances such as that can doom Wisconsin.
It will be interesting to see which version of Penn State’s perimeter defense shows up on Saturday. If they play as they did against Maryland, who went just 1-17 from three-point range, the Badgers are in trouble. However, Wisconsin fans should feel assured by the Nittany Lions’ overall body of work this season: they are dead last in the Big Ten throughout conference play in opponent three-point percentage.
Despite Penn State’s recent success, I like Wisconsin to get back on track at home thanks to its stingy defense and an opponent that struggles to contain opponents from long range. The Nittany Lions will likely need a healthy dose of turnovers to come out on top, and I just don’t envision that happening in the friendly confines of the Kohl Center. The Nittany Lions keep it close, but the Badgers come out on top in a 66-58 affair.
All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com