|Who:||Northwestern Wildcats (16-11, 6-8)|
|When:||Today, 9:00 PM|
|Where:||Bryce Jordan Center|
|Radio:||Affiliates, Sirius - CH 92, XM - CH 191|
Penn State returns to the hardwood after the bye week late tonight thanks to ESPNU. A 9PM game on State Patty's day has the makings for one of the worst crowds of the year. We can only hope that won't have a negative effect on the home team. If you're a student and not participating in #SPD, then you should go to the game because you'll likely have a great chance at winning these sweet prizes.
Northwestern comes in once again on the brink of their first ever NCAA tournament bid. David Jones did some homework on this today in his column and found that all other teams from the Top 12 conferences have made at least twice. The Wildcats sit at the right side of the bubble if the season ended today, but they still have 3 games remaining. They'll likely need to win 2 of those 3 (vsOSU, @Iowa) to feel good about themselves or will have to earn it in the Big Ten Tourney a la Talor Battle and company.
No one can really say for sure what Bill Carmody's team needs to do to get into the NCAA tournament. That usually isn't settled until Championship Week. But all can agree that a loss to Penn State will undoubtedly be an awful black mark on the resume that will be tough to overcome. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Penn State isn't the same team they beat on New Year's day, they play significantly better at home (+0.05 efficiency margin, compared to -0.25 road EM), and Northwestern hasn't won at the BJC in a decade.
|NW (on road)||Conference-Only||PSU (at home)|
The main reason why PSU has had such success against Northwestern is a tremendous rebounding advantage. Northwestern has consistently been the worst team in the league at rebounding, and this year is no different. Even in this year's contest, PSU grabbed 63.7% of the total rebounds. Too bad they posted a 39.6% eFG% in the 68-56 loss.
Also in the first game between these two teams, Billy Oliver and Trey Lewis combined for 45 minutes (and just a lousy 5 points). They are no longer factors, although Lewis has practiced full-speed for the first time this week. There might be a chance we'll see him today as Chambers said he didn't miss a beat in practice after being out the last 6 weeks with a back stress fracture. Also, Jon Graham was a complete non-factor while Woodyard and Marshall had their typical road shooting performances (8 for 27 combined). Considering the venue change and the new rotation, this will likely be a much different game.
KenPom likes Northwestern by one point and gives them a 54% chance of victory. Vegas is also piggy-backing off Pom and giving Penn State 1.5 points. However, I think this is a great matchup for Penn State, despite Northwestern's sense of urgency or whatever lame cliche you want to call it. Graham could really be an x-factor inside if he continues on his 2-game streak, while the outside shooting will be much better. Ross Travis could also be key if he can effectively use his athleticism on the glass and around the basket. If PSU can slow down Northwestern's attack, they will win their 5th conference game this season.