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Penn State vs. Charlotte Preview: Lions Hoping to Set Tone for Charleston Classic

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The Niners were picked to finish third in C-USA and have a bevvy of experience.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Charlotte 49ers
When: Thursday, 5 p.m. ET
Where: TD Arena, Charleston, SC
TV: ESPNU
KenPom Rank: 86
Vegas Line: Penn State -3

These opening exempt tournament games are always strange. It's nearly impossible to know, outside of the top 30 or so teams, who is actually good. KenPom numbers can only tell you so much considering how minute the sample size is. Charlotte, Penn State's first opponent in the Charleston Classic, has played one game so far - a 73-60 win over Elon. Not exactly a strong indicator of a good team, much like Penn State's wins over Morgan State and Fordham. All that to say, there's a whole lot of unknowns playing in Charleston this weekend.

Penn State basketball has usually failed against these unknowns in preseason tournaments. Eric went through the heartbreaking history on Tuesday, but the short of it is this: the Nittany Lions are 5-10 in tip off tournaments since their inception in 2006. Can they buck the trends and kickstart their NCAA tournament hopes this weekend? They'll have to take care of a talented and experienced 49ers squad first.

Scouting The Opposition

Head coach Alan Major is in his fifth season, and all signs point to this being his best squad since his arrival. Picked to finish third in Conference USA, Charlotte returns four starters from last season, and all of them averaged at least nine points a game in 2013-14. Tops among that group is point guard Pierria Henry, the only player in C-USA to average 12 points, five boards and five assists last season. He'll be looking to command the floor better on Thursday after his team coughed up 21 turnovers in the season opener.

The Niners also have some formidable post players that should concern Chambers. Juniors Willie Clayton and Mike Thorne Jr are outstanding rebounders, particularly on the offensive glass - Clayton's adjusted offensive rebounding percentage (14.4%) was 34th in the nation a year ago.

What's the best way to stop Charlotte? Foul the bigs. Thorne shot just 51 percent on the year in 2014, but he's considered a shot doctor next to Clayton, who attempted twice as many free throws as Thorne but still came in at just under 50 percent. That's how a player finishes with an eFG% of 59.3 percent yet just an ORtg of 103.

What To Watch For

All eyes have been on freshman point guard Shep Garner in Penn State's first two games, and rightfully so. Garner has a tough matchup against either Henry or his fellow senior Terrence Williams, and any boost the Nittany Lions can get in the three point department will be huge this weekend. Also, keep an eye on Chambers' substitution patterns. With two games in two days and three in four days, the possibility of the players burning out is not only real but likely. Expect to see more of Devin Foster and Payton Banks over the next two days to disperse more of the minutes.

Prediction

Rebounding is such a huge key for Charlotte that if Penn State can hold their own on the glass, the Niners will likely shoot themselves out of the game. They're a terrible ball handling team to begin with, and any extra possessions they earn will give them a huge boost. That's why this is such a big game for the Penn State frontcourt, especially Ross Travis. The senior has one last chance to have a memorable season in State College, and a couple of wins down in Charlotte gives the Nittany Lions something to build on. I think Ross and co. come through and help eek out a tight victory for PSU, 65-63.