Penn State will face the Northwestern Wildcats tonight in the BJC at 8:00. The two teams will battle to get out of last place in the B1G, each looking for their first conference win. The game can be seen on ESPNU.
Last Time Out
Penn State took on #5 Indiana Monday night at the BJC. The Nittany Lions took an early 3-2 lead, and that would be the only lead they had all game. Indiana’s offense overmatched Penn State’s defense for the entire game, resulting in a 52% field goal percentage, including 8-16 from three. Indiana also got to the line 34 times, while Penn State only shot 11 free throws. The only positive for Penn State was that they had 13 offensive rebounds to Indiana’s 6. This resulted in Penn State shooting 18 more total shots than the Hoosiers. Unfortunately, Penn State only converted on 31% of their attempts, erasing the only advantage they had on the #5 team in the nation.
Northwestern has had a season eerily similar to Penn State’s, except Northwestern has a signature win. The Wildcats defeated the Baylor Bears in Waco 74-70, and finished their non-conference schedule at 9-4. Northwestern has opened their B1G season with losses to Michigan and Minnesota. The Wildcats have lost two key players to injury this year in Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb. Crawford, arguably their best player, was averaging 13 points a game before his injury. Bill Carmody has used Tre Demps to fill in for Crawford and he has responded, averaging around 11 points in the six games since the injury. The team’s leading scorer is guard Reggie Hearn at 14.2 ppg.
Keys to the Game
1. Assists- Northwestern is 17th in the nation in assists per game, averaging 16.9 a game. The Wildcats have a knack for setting up teammates for good shots, which could be a problem for Penn State’s defense. The Nittany Lions will have to communicate well on the defensive side of the ball and utilize well-timed rotations in order to stay in front of the Wildcat shooters. The Northwestern offense isn’t good enough for its players to create their own shots, so Penn State needs to try and limit their passing game, resulting in more 1-on-1’s
2. Boxing Out- as cliche as this is, it will be key for Penn State in a game like this. Northwestern’s bigs are not athletic or strong enough to get rebounds over Penn State. If PSU can stay in front of their man and get good positions, they will have no problem out rebounding the Wildcats. While Northwestern has the tallest player on the floor, 7 foot Alex Olah, he is not athletic enough to get rebounds unless he is given good position. Taller players have given Penn State some problems this year, but Olah has only averaged 4.3 rebounds in 21 minutes a game. If Penn State can box him out and keep him behind them, he should be a non-factor in this game. But if he can get in front of them, he could have double-digit rebounds for the first time in his career.
3. Brandon Taylor- Taylor needs to establish himself as Penn State’s number three scorer. B-Tay always seems to open the game with a three-pointer or two, and then disappear for the rest of the game. This happens for two reasons. The first is that he gets himself into foul trouble early and often. Taylor has to keep his hands up on defense and stay in front of his man. Too often he finds himself reaching in or coming down on someone when they shoot. This has led to him averaging 3 fouls a game, including a DQ versus Indiana. The other problem is that Taylor has become too one dimensional. While he is a very good three-point shooter, he seems to stay out on the perimeter most of the game. He needs to use his frame to his advantage and get to the block more often. When Taylor sets a screen, he rolls to the arc almost every time. This makes it easy for defenders to cover him, even though on paper he should be a match-up nightmare. If he starts rolling to the basket and playing on the block/high post, it will keep the defense off balance, and help him score more points.
Prediction- For both Penn State and Northwestern, this is one of the few winnable Big Ten matchups. Penn State being the home team gives them a little bit of an advantage, and I think they pull this one out to get their first B1G win of the season. Penn State’s athleticism will be too much for the depleted Wildcats, but not enough for free Big Macs. The crowd is already getting one dollar hot dogs anyways. Final Score is 63-52 Penn State.