Penn State Basketball hits the road Tuesday, traveling to Madison, Wisconsin to square off against Big Ten foe, the University of Wisconsin. Tip-off is for 8:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
The Badgers come limping into the contest, losers of their last 3 games. Penn State, meanwhile, just halted their own 2-game losing streak when they destroyed Indiana 85-66. That is the same Indiana team that just got done demolishing Wisconsin 63-45 in the Badgers’ last game.
The big story for Wisconsin has been the injury of their star forward, 6’9″ Tyler Wahl. Hurt in the opening minutes of Wisconsin’s victory over Minnesota, Wahl is to Wisconsin what Pickett is to Penn State basketball. Early indications are that Wahl will return for tomorrow’s tilt.
When Wahl is healthy, the Badgers’ frontcourt is solid. Junior F/C Steven Crowl has seen significant improvement in the offensive aspects of his game. One area that Penn State will have a slight advantage in is rebounding. Penn State’s rebounding differential is poor (-3.0) but Wisconsin’s is worse (3.8).
Wisconsin’s backcourt is led by 6’2″ sophomore PG Chucky Hepburn. More of a scoring point guard (12.7 PPG) than a facilitator (3.3 APG), Hepburn is nonetheless secure in handling the rock (1.6 turnovers per game). The Badgers have a very solid freshman guard in 6’4″ Connor Essegian. Not intimidated by the bright lights of the Big Ten conference, Essegian comes off the bench to average 10.5 PPG. There has been talk of moving him into the starting five, so don’t be surprised if that happens against the Nittany Lions.
If Wahl returns and isn’t on a minute restriction, Wisconsin will be a formidable foe for Penn State. Their size on the inside could allow them to dominate the interior. However, Penn State’s ability to shoot from distance enables them to be in ANY game. Penn State also enjoys a significant advantage at the charity stripe, shooting 77.8% from the foul line compared to Wisconsin’s 67%.
Wisconsin has owned this series, with a 42-11 record all-time. However, the games tend to be very close. The last contest between these two was a 2-point victory for the Badgers, 51-49, last February. One of Penn State’s few victories over Wisconsin occurred during the 2011 Big Ten tournament, when the Nittany Lions won 33-31, in a game that set basketball offense back 100 years. Penn State’s long-range shooting should keep the Nittany Lions in this and Wisconsin’s poor free-throw shooting could hurt them, allowing Penn State to get a very rare road win in Madison.