Penn State took care of business against a listless Iowa team at home on Wednesday. Now, things get tough again as No. 15 Wisconsin enters the Bryce Jordan Center to face the Nittany Lions at 4:00 P.M. this afternoon. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
The Badgers (15-4, 5-2) are one of the Big Ten's hottest teams having won four of their last five games to surge into third place in the Big Ten standings. They boast two big scorers in Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor to go along with a pretty deep cast of supporting characters.
Leuer is probably the toughest matchup for Penn State. The 6'10" forward can do it call. He averages 19.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game to go along with a 47% average from 3-point territory. He's a threat to make shots all over the floor. Taylor, a guard, is balanced, too. He averages 17.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. He's played particularly well lately scoring over 20 points in five of his last seven games and averaging 20.8 points in that span.
In the big picture, this game isn't the be-all-end-all for Penn State's NCAA Tournament hopes. The Lions don't have a whole lot of breathing room left, but they can still afford to take a hit against a team like Wisconsin. That said, an upset in this one would improve the team's standing dramatically and move them from the "unlikely" category to "legitimate bubble contender."
Keys to the game after the jump.
When Wisconsin Has The Ball
- The stats say Penn State is actually a marginally better rebounding team (33.5-33.3 rebounds per game) despite Wisconsin's length, so there's definitely room for Penn State to continue its five game streak of controlling the boards. If the Lions can do that, they'll limit second chances, which is key against a team as offensively efficient as the Badgers.
- Penn State has fallen into a bad habit of letting secondary scorers do a lot of damage for their opponents, for example, Ryne Smith in the first Purdue game and Aaron Craft at Ohio State. Wisconsin is a pretty deep team and will throw a lot of guys at the Lions through the afternoon. Penn State needs to make sure none of them stick.
Tim Frazier and Talor Battle have to be on their game defending Jordan Taylor. He's really evolving into an impact guard in the league and Penn State needs to treat him with the same care up top as it might Kalin Lucas or Demetri McCamey. If you're the Lions, you can't let him catch you off guard.
When Penn State Has The Ball
- Penn State can't sustain itself with the bench play it has gotten lately. Period. The efforts of the starting five at Ohio State and Purdue were nothing short of extraordinary and if the Lions' role players continue to rely on that, the team risks running out of gas at crunch time in late February and March. Guys like Billy Oliver, Jermaine Marshall and Cammeron Woodyard need to start offering more support.
- Penn State bucked its season long trend of struggling with key contributors in foul trouble as it managed a win over Iowa with Andrew Jones and David Jackson each finishing the game with four fouls. If either of those two or Jeff Brooks miss time in this game, though, it could get ugly. All three need to be aggressive on defense but remain in control.
- Talor Battle had 28 points against Wisconsin in Penn State's overtime loss in Madison last winter. Of course, anything the Lions can get from Battle is great, but if Jeff Brooks and David Jackson can share more of the load this time around, maybe the Lions will get just enough this time rather than falling just short.
Penn State hasn't beaten Wisconsin, home, away, or otherwise, since this senior class stepped on campus. Along with Ohio State, the Badgers have represented on of the Lions' worst matchups in recent times. That's what would make a win in this game so huge for Ed DeChellis and the team. Beating Wisconsin could generate momentum this team hasn't had since winning the NIT in 2008-2009 and that's crucial when you're talking about making a run at the big dance.
We've got a little more on this game for you today. First, Andy Katz of ESPN talks about while he'll be keeping an eye on this one.
Also, in case you didn't hear already, today is Coaches Vs. Cancer Band Together Day at the Jordan Center. Among the special plans for the afternoon...
It is a big day for Coaches Vs. Cancer both locally and nationally. Penn State will welcome all cancer survivors and their families and friends with up to four free tickets each for the game (while supplies last) vs. the No. 17 ranked Badgers.
Penn State Athletics will donate $3 from every ticket sold to the game to Penn State Coaches vs. Cancer and encourages all fans in attendance to don a "Band Together" headband as the community unites in the fight against cancer. Penn State coach Ed DeChellis, his staff, Nittany Lion players, chearleaders, dance team, band and everyone involved in the game will be sporting white "Band Together" headbands in a symbolic uniting of will to defeat the disease which has affected so many.
Here we have some extra video from Wednesday's post-game press conference of Ed DeChellis talking about the importance of the event to him.