|Who:||Mount St. Mary's|
|Where:||Bryce Jordan Center|
|KenPom Line:||PSU -16|
After last Saturday's momentum-crushing loss to Princeton in Rec Hall, Penn State will have one game to return to a winning routine before a conference opener with Michigan State on New Year's Eve. The Nittany Lions will have a great opportunity to rebuild their confidence against one of the nation's more middling teams, though Mount St. Mary's has succeeded where PSU has failed- the Mountaineers beat Bucknell at home less than a month ago.
As you may be aware, John Johnson is finally eligible to play on Sunday. This is his lone audition before the B1G schedule, so expect to see plenty of him. Pat Chambers reportedly "won't alter his rotation" for Johnson (via Ben Jones) but I have a feeling he might might force his way into some meaningful minutes on Sunday.
UPDATE: And with the news yesterday evening, Jordan Dickerson will also be available for his first PSU game after the NCAA granted his waiver request to clear him of the year in academic residence requirement for all division-1 transfers.
Scouting The Opposition
The Mount (heh) got their first taste of B1G hoops when they faced Sparty at Breslin last month. They were predictably thumped, 98-65, and followed up that performance with a four-point defeat at Binghamton (KenPom: 341). But, as mentioned, they have beaten Bucknell, so Pat Chambers probably won't be taking the Mountaineers too lightly.
Head coach and MSM-alum Jamion Christian was a shooting guard as a player and that's where his team's strengths lie. The backcourt duo of Julian Norfleet and Rashad Whack aren't quite on the Tim Frazier/D.J. Newbill level of talent, but they can certainly do some damage. Norfleet is the lead guard, averaging 18.6 ppg and actually assisting on a higher percentage of his team's field goals than Frazier (42.7% to Timmy's 41.9%), though his 5.4 apg figure demonstrates just how poor his teammates can be at shooting. Whack doesn't quite live up to his name, putting up 14.1 points per contest, including a season-high 22 in the Bucknell win. But much like the rest of the team, Whack has some unrequited feelings of affection towards the three-pointer - MSM shoots just 31.5% from deep but they still attempt 27.5 threes per game.
As far as defensive tendencies go, the Mountaineers shouldn't be hard to break down. They don't have a shot-blocker, they don't force many turnovers, and they don't defend the paint very well. They play mostly man to man so Frazier and Newbill could very well have a field day in the lane, both scoring and dishing to Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor for easy buckets. Penn State should also have a significant advantage on the glass - for as much as MSM miss jumpers, they should be a much better offensive rebounding team. Instead they grab just 24.3% of their possible offensive boards. PSU isn't a great on the offensive glass, but they still get 4% more of their possible o-rebs than Sunday's foes do.
There are plenty of other individual matchups you'd expect Penn State to win but the Frazier/Norfleet battle should be interesting. Norfleet might have to decide early on whether to be a distributor or a scorer, and if Timmy can force him to choose the wrong option it could turn a simple victory into a blowout for the Lions.
If it feels like there's a slight sense of urgency around this game, there is. It's a must-win if Penn State has hopes of reaching the big dance. Fortunately, The Mount's style of play suits the Lions and there shouldn't be any hiccup here. I'll say Penn State 85, Mount St. Mary's 69.