Nitt Picks Is Raising Some Eyebrows

It was a pretty quiet weekend for Penn State football and men's basketball, but there are a few headlines to get to this afternoon in the Happy Valley sphere.

The Daily Collegian's Emily Kaplan talked to ESPN.com basketball reporter and Penn State graduate Dana O'Neil about Penn State's surge in basketball in recent weeks. Here's some of what she had to say about Talor Battle and the team.

"He’s a terrific player, but as he’s tried to do over the years, you can’t win consistently an entire conference by yourself," O’Neil said.

"So I think the play of guys like Jeff Brooks, Drew Jones and D.J. Jackson has been hugely important to Penn State. Being consistent, not just showing up here and there, but playing consistently and giving them different looks, different presence inside, post presence, has been the biggest improvement."

The key among all of those guys is Jones. Brooks, Battle and Jackson have been scoring all season in wins and losses. When Jones plays well, he has an obvious impact on the team as he did against Michigan State and Illinois. He's developed a mid-range jumper this season that's no excellent by any means, but enough to keep defenses honest. He'll probably never be a great shooter, but anything that pulls the defense out of the lane a little more opens the whole offense up for Penn State.

Wrestling

After beating Indiana on Sunday in Bloomington, the No. 2 ranked wrestling team is now 13-0. That's the program's best mark ever at this point in the season and as the Daily Collegian's Brandt Gelman explains, team members David Taylor, Frank Molinaro, Andrew Alton and Andrew Long are a big reason why.

Through the weekend, Penn State’s fearsome foursome went 8-0, outscoring their opponents 32-0, and raking up bonus points in five of the eight matches.

"It’s good as far as the team goes," Molinaro said. "It’s defeating for the other teams mentally because after they go through us they have to make up points and do things they wouldn’t normally do."

As Gelamn notes, with No. 1 Cornell's loss, Penn State will likely stand alone atop the rankings by the end of the day today, if not already.

Pegula Arena

In a development that surprised absolutely no one, the Board of Trustees decided to name Penn State's new ice facility the Pegula Ice Arena on Friday.

In terms of the name itself, Associate Athletic Director for Ice Arena Operations and Director of the Ice Arena and Hockey Campaign Joe Battista said it keeps perfectly with the tradition of keeping a building name simple.

"On top of that, we already had a stadium, a center, a complex, an auditorium and a hall, but we haven’t had an arena yet," Battista said. "They like the names to be understated, not flashy."

Right. Because "Medlar Field at Lubrano Park" just rolls right off the tongue.

In other hockey news, the Icers swept West Chester this weekend at home. They're now 16-7-0 on the season and 7-3-0 in league play.

More Basketball

Getting back to hoops for a moment here, Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com recently gave Penn State a little praise himself.

Instead, it appears this team is just a bit better than we thought. It is not a conference doormat, as was the case last season. Instead, these Nittany Lions more closely resemble the squad that won the NIT in 2009. They're solid on offense -- Pomeroy has Penn State's offense ranked No. 27 in the nation in adjusted efficiency -- and suspect on defense. Still, as we've seen these past four games, if the Nittany Lions defend well enough to cause even a slight downtick in how frequently opponents score at their end of the floor, this team can score enough to hang with the best in its conference. Throw in some timely Talor Battle heroics, a healthy helping of contributions from Jeff Brooks and David Jackson, and intelligent defensive strategy against superior frontcourts, and it really does seem that simple.

That efficiency rank is pretty surprising, considering that on the season, Penn State has not shot the ball very well. Things have been better from the field in Big Ten play, but it's hard to see how that can make up for shooting performances like those against St. Joseph's and Maryland earlier in the year when the Lions couldn't hit water if they jumped out of a boat.

The defense is also important, but perhaps the focus should be even narrower than that. Penn State has rebounded very effectively since getting rocked on the boards Jan. 5 at home against Purdue. The Lions managed to outrebound all four of Michigan State, Illinois, Ohio State and Purdue since. I don't think it's going out on a limb to say no other Big Ten team will probably accomplish that this season, and considering Penn State's size, it's a pretty impressive feat.

Ladies Dominate Boards

Speaking of rebounding, the Lady Lions had a great afternoon on the boards on Sunday, outrebounding Indiana 61-36 at the Bryce Jordan Center behind big efforts from Mia Nickson and Nikki Greene. Penn State won the game 82-69.

Greene and Nickson made it difficult for the Hoosier forwards to establish themselves in the paint. Nickson had a double-double with a team-high 25 points and 17 rebounds.

Meanwhile, Greene’s 20 rebounds tied a Bryce Jordan Center record and marked the first 20-rebound game by a Lady Lion since 1987.

The two forwards pulled in 23 offensive rebounds, which Nickson believed was due to the Hoosiers’ focus on Penn State’s usually accurate shooters.

"I thought they thought our shooters were going to take control of the game," Nickson said. "When the shot went up, they were really concerned with boxing out the shooter, and it left the paint wide open."

Everyone knows by now this team can shoot the heck out of the ball, but to see the ladies perform so well on the glass, especially offensively, is encouraging. After falling at Purdue midweek this week, that's the type of effort they're going to need to stay in the Big Ten race and have a chance at dancing deep into March this season.

In Scores Of Other Games

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