Pat Chambers and the Penn State men’s basketball team have successfully climbed out of the Big Ten basement with consecutive home wins over Nebraska and Iowa. Now that some confidence has been gained and some free burgers have been handed out, the Lions will take their show on the road to take on Wisconsin this Sunday at 4:00 PM.
The first time Penn State played Wisconsin this season, the Lions took a 23-17 lead into halftime, but couldn’t keep Jordan Taylor and Jared Berggren in check in the second half. The Badgers escaped with a 52-46 win. Things won’t be any easier for Penn State now that they have to play in Madison. Wisconsin hasn’t been invincible in the Kohl Center this season (they even lost to Iowa back on December 31), but they’ve been plenty tough enough to handle this Penn State team.
The deal with Wisconsin is that they don’t allow opponents to take quality three-point shots. That doesn’t mean opponents have an easier time inside, though. Despite not having an elite shot blocker on the team, Wisconsin leads all of Division I with 40.4% opponent effective field goal percentage (eFG%). The downside is that they don’t force many turnovers at all, but that doesn’t seem to have hurt coach Bo Ryan’s overall plan on defense.
Penn State fell right in line with the rest of Wisconsin’s opponents when they played the Badgers earlier in the season. The Lions only turned the ball over 9 times, but they were limited to 2 of 10 shooting from beyond the arc, and only 36% shooting overall.
Forcing up a bunch of three-pointers that aren’t open would be a good way for Penn State to get themselves in trouble in Madison. Instead, Chambers needs to make sure his team takes its time to break down the defense. Both Tim Frazier and Jermaine Marshall can attack the basket, but they need to be ready to pass the ball off if they draw too many defenders. Not fouling is also something Wisconsin excels at. I expect Frazier’s smooth pull-up game should be the ideal weapon against the Badgers.
Jon Graham is coming off the best game of his career with 10 points on 3 for 3 shooting versus Iowa, but I’d take it with a grain of salt thanks to Iowa’s poor interior defense. Nonetheless, Frazier and Penn State should still work to get the ball to Graham and Sasa Borovnjak in the post, unless they want the offense to be limited to the guards picking their way between the teeth of Wisconsin’s defense.
When Wisconsin has the ball, Penn State will need to attack star point guard Jordan Taylor and force frontcourt players Jared Berggren or Ryan Evans to do some work on offense. When either of those players have the ball, the Lions need to find the balance between double teaming the post and not leaving Mike Bruesewitz, Josh Gasser or Wisconsin’s other shooters wide open.
Jermaine Marshall will be a key player for Penn State. He’ll need to get his inconsistent defense under control and contain Wisconsin’s perimeter players. On offense, Marshall seems to have gotten more comfortable lately (six straight games in double figures), which is good because Penn State cannot hope for an upset on the strength of Frazier alone.