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Penn State vs George Washington Preview: Lions Face Toughest Test Yet

Penn State sits at 9-1, however unconvincingly, and to get to 10-1 they'll need to shore up quite a few weaknesses.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports
Who: George Washington Colonials (6-2)
When: Sunday, Noon ET
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: ESPN3.com
KenPom Rank: 52
KenPom Line: PSU -1
Enemy Blog: GWHoops.com

Perseverance will only get you so far in big-time college basketball. Penn State has certainly shown that the close-game curse that plagued them last season is a thing of the past, but the competition they've encountered thus far isn't indicative of what they'll face in the B1G. Sunday's opponent, George Washington, is the closest thing to an NCAA tournament team the Nittany Lions will face before conference play. The Colonials won handily at Rutgers early in the season and are fresh off a win over a DePaul team that's not as DePaul-y as usual. Penn State can't afford to switch off for very long on Sunday, because their opponents won't let poor play go unpunished.

Scouting The Opposition

Coach Mike Lonergan led the Colonials to a 24-win season in 2014, but this team may be his best yet. GW is 32nd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, and there aren't a lot of vulnerabilities for Penn State to attack - the Colonials rank in the top 100 in every major defensive statistical category.

Pat Chambers' best course of action may be to slow down the proceedings, as GW's two losses have come in ultra-slow games. Both of their losses came in contests that had 60 or fewer possessions, though Virginia and Seton Hall may not be the most apt comparisons for Penn State. The Colonials like to play in transition and get to the rim, so they don't rely much on the three-point shot. GW is attempting just 14.25 threes per game; for comparison's sake, the Nittany Lions hoist around 20 triples per game.

Personnel wise, Patricio Garino and Kethan Savage are the Colonials' two main offensive threats. Garino has stepped into a larger role this season and has flourished thus far, leading the team in scoring at 15.1 ppg. The 6-6 Argentinian (Argentine?) is a crafty scorer that does most of his damage around the rim, shooting 69% (nice) inside the arc so far this season. Savage missed the second half of 2014 with a broken metatarsal. He's back to full fitness this season, averaging 12.8 points per game, though his is coming off a 1 of 9 effort against DePaul, by far his worst game of the young campaign.

What To Watch For

The key for Penn State will be their big men, who performed admirably in Wednesday's defeat of duqane. Donovon Jack put in his best offensive performance of the season with 11 points on 3 of 4 shooting. Jordan Dickerson's numbers weren't particularly impressive (5 points, 3 boards, 2 blocks), but his shot-changing abilities are a big reason why Penn State is 28th in the nation in 2pt% defense. Jack and Dickerson combined to play just 31 minutes that night, but the takeaway here is that Chambers had them available for use since neither was in foul trouble. He'll need them for more than 31 minutes against GW.

Of course, this won't much matter if D.J. Newbill continues his skittish play of late. His 5-17 night against the Dukes was probably an outlier, but in any case PSU needs the B1G's leading scorer to play with the confidence he had to start the year.

Prediction

The Nittany Lions have an opportunity to get a quality win here, and I don't doubt Chambers' ability to get his team mentally prepared. But it feels like Penn State's cacophony of bad habits are about to come to a head. George Washington is a better team right now and they'll exploit PSU's numerous weaknesses to win 82-75. I will gladly be wrong on this one.