Throughout the last couple of weeks, there's been plenty of debate within the Penn State community over whether the Nittany Lions must win two or three games at the Big Ten Tournament to have a shot an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. None of that talk will matter, however, if the team doesn't take care of business when it opens postseason play tonight at 7:30 P.M. against Indiana in Indianapolis.
It's easy to overlook the Hoosiers in the big picture. The Lions haven't faced them since December, when Penn State left Bloomington with a 69-60 victory, and they've been irrelevant in the conference race all season, finishing in last place with only three league wins.
Indiana is in Penn State's way now, though, and for Penn State to even get its chance to prove it belongs in the NCAA Tournament against Wisconsin on Friday, the players need to take the Hoosiers seriously.
Christian Watford remains Indiana's leading scorer as he was back in December, averaging 16 points per game this season. He also lead the team with a 5.4 rebound per game average. Verdell Jones III averages 12.7 points per game and Jordan Hulls 11.1 to round out the Hoosier players that average double figure scoring.
After winning two of three games from late January to early February, the Hoosiers have lost eight games in a row.
Keys to the game after the jump.
When Indiana Has The Ball
- Christian Watford finished the December matchup with only three points. If Penn State can limit him like that again, it'll put a real burden on the rest of Indiana's scorers and the scoring deficit without him contributing will be very difficult to overcome for the Hoosiers.
- Jordan Hulls is a dangerous 3-point shooter at close to 42%, and for a team as challenged at defending the perimeter as Penn State, that's worrisome. As Penn State has learned a couple of times this season, a hot shooter can ruin everything, so tough defense on this shooter in particular will be key. In case you were wondering, he had 13 points on 3-4 shooting from the perimeter the first time around.
- The Hoosiers boast seven players averaging at least 4.9 points per game. Penn State has four eligible players with averages in that range. Indiana might not be very good, but its deeper than Penn State, and that's something the Lions will have manage. They can't afford to have the Hoosiers dictate the pace of the game, or it mitigates any skill advantage Penn State might have.
When Penn State Has The Ball
- Look for Penn State's rotation to go deeper in this one than it has through much of the season. If the Lions are going to have a chance against Wisconsin on Friday should they win today, the starters will need a break here and there to stay fresh. This means guys like Jermaine Marshall, Cammeron Woodyard and Billy Oliver need to step up and offer their most solid minutes of the season.
- Penn State has looked a little jumpy early in important games this season. The Lions need to calm down and get comfortable as quickly as possible. There will likely be plenty of Hoosier fans at Conseco Fieldhouse, but Nittany Nation is expected to be in the house, and the Paint Crew will likely be there in Penn State's corner as well. No reason for the players to get flustered and have those jumpers bounce off the rim long because they're too amped. A good first half will go a long way toward setting up an easier second half, which will be important in saving gas for Wisconsin. Perhaps more than in any other game this season, Penn State needs a quick start tonight.
- The Lions' big three scorers,Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, and David Jackson, scored 57 of the team's 69 points in December. If they dominate the game like that again and the vastly improved Tim Frazier plays like he has in the last month to add to it, Penn State will be difficult for Indiana to contain.
Without looking too far ahead, it's important to point out that today is about more than Penn State vs. Indiana. Bubble teams everywhere will be starting conference tournament play, and the Lions would love to see as many of them drop as possible. Click here to see the bubble slate for the day. If Penn State can see any of Boston College, Memphis, Tennessee, USC, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Michigan State or Washington State fall, it'll be a productive day for their at-large hopes. Ultimately, Penn State can't be eliminated today if it wins, but its road could get either tougher or easier depending upon what happens across America. So keep an eye on that action and root heavily for the opponents of the teams listed above.