|Who:||Marshall Thundering Herd|
|When:||Saturday, December 7th|
|Where:||Bryce Jordan Center|
|Vegas Line:||TBD, KenPom: PSU -15|
Patrick Chambers and his Nittany Lions sure seem like they could use a punching bag of sorts to relieve the stress of losing back-to-back games for the first time this season against Ole Miss and Pitt, two results that would've been headliners on Penn State's postseason resume had the bounces gone their way. Marshall is perhaps more of a Bobo doll than a stagnant punching bag (a la Longwood or Monmouth), but nonetheless this should be a chance for Penn State to get back to their winning ways.
Scouting The Opposition
The Herd gave Vanderbilt (87th in KenPom) just about all they could handle in Nashville on Thursday night. Marshall's Kareem Canty and Elijah Pittman combined for 35 points in the 69-67 defeat, and that's nothing new for Saturday's visitors - that duo has accounted for much of their production all season. Canty, a freshman from New Jersey, had offers from Rutgers, Seton Hall, Providence and Iowa State but chose to get immediate playing time in Huntingdon and he's taken full advantage to put up some Tim Frazier-like numbers: 17.0 ppg and 7.3 apg on 45% FG shooting. Like Frazier, he assists on a high number of his team's field goals, (38.6 ARate, 12th nationally) and isn't so much a threat from outside the arc as he is inside, shooting just 32.4% from distance and 53% on twos.
Pittman is a 6'9" 220 lb pure scorer who can do his damage from every spot on the floor. He's gotten off to a fantastic start this season, averaging 23.7 points a game on 62.5 eFG%. Expect to see Ross Travis matched up with him all game long, or at least until the junkyard dog gets into foul trouble - Pittman draws an average of 8.2 fouls per contest. Elsewhere for the Herd, Chris Thomas isn't quite having the year you'd expect from a five-star JuCo commit at a school like Marshall, but he's certainly capable of filling it up. He recorded 27 points in a win against Western Kentucky last week and has started to pick up some real momentum since he was inserted into the starting lineup four games ago.
Head coach Tom Herrion's teams are usually pretty stout in defending the arc, even going back to his days at College of Charleston, and this year is no exception - teams are shooting 28.4% against the Herd, and before you claim that's a result of the weak schedule Marshall has played so far, note that Vandy shot 5-17 from behind the line on Thursday night. Penn State is shooting at a 37.9% clip as a team, a number that was dragged down by their 4-15 performance against Pitt on Tuesday.
Conversely, teams have found success before against the Nittany Lions' perimeter defense, but Marshall doesn't appear to be the type of team that can perform the way Bucknell did at the BJC - the Herd are collectively making just 30.2% of their triples. Whichever team can control the perimeter should have a decisive advantage in this game. Also, as mentioned before, Travis will need to stay out of foul trouble while defending Pittman. The junior forward struggled against Pitt, so it would behoove him to be on the floor as much as possible against a team that isn't exactly a juggernaut on the glass (29.5% Off. Reb%).
If Penn State continues to do the things that have made them successful this entire season, namely take care of the ball and shoot high percentage shots, they shouldn't have much of a problem with Marshall. Frazier and D.J. Newbill should continue their reign atop the B1G scoring charts against a team that isn't particularly tall or adept at defending the paint. Expect their penetration to open up some shooting opportunities for others, particularly Brandon Taylor, who seems due for a big game.
It may take a little while for the Nittany Lions to figure out how best to attack the Herd's stingy perimeter defense, but once they do it should be smooth sailing from then on out. KenPom likes Penn State by 15, but I think there might be a small hangover from the highs of playing three of the nations better teams in just a five-day span. I'll say the good guys take it at home, 84-74.