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Penn State vs. Dartmouth Preview: Lions Must Avoid December Doldrums

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A 4 p.m. start on the Monday before Christmas? Sounds a little Maine-y.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Dartmouth Big Green (5-5)
When: Monday, 4:00 p.m. ET
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
Web Stream: BTN Plus ($)
KenPom Rank: 195
Vegas Line: PSU -8.5

This game has all the makings of a weird one for Penn State. The final game before Christmas has often presented the Nittany Lions with issues; last season's encounter with Mount St. Mary's took some heroics from Geno Thorpe and debutant John Johnson to avoid a crushing loss, and of course there's the ten-point loss to Maine in 2010, which won't be discussed any further lest we all get sick before the holidays.

Okay, one quick comparison to that game - Maine was 5-5 heading into Happy Valley and finished around 200 in the final KenPom rankings. Dartmouth is (gulp) 5-5 and 195th in KenPom. If you don't believe in coincidence, or symmetry, or whatever the hell this is called, this probably won't be worth the $9.95 you'll have to pay to watch the game on BTN Plus.

Scouting The Opposition

"These games are so scary" (5:42). Pat Chambers is well aware of the perils facing his team tonight, even if the talent and experience gaps play heavily into Penn State's favor. The Big Green will be highly motivated considering they don't play any other major-conference opponents this regular season, and they have the ammunition to pull off the upset.

As a team, Dartmouth are shooting close to 40% on the year from three-point range, and that's mostly by the grace of leading scorer Alex Mitola. The 5-11 junior guard is shooting 46% from deep and averages 3.5 triples a game. The Big Green have a pair of upperclassmen post players who average double-figures in Connor Boehm and Gabas Maldunas, but they're not a team that attacks the basket all that often. In fact, coach Paul Cormier will look to slow the game down considerably, just as they've done all season. Dartmouth rank 335 nationally in average possession length at 20.4 seconds per possession. Penn State has shown the ability to play at a snail's pace against George Washington, but Dartmouth's penchant for the three ball makes them a completely different animal than the Colonials, who attempted just four triples in the BJC.

What To Watch For

Penn State once again had trouble closing out a game against Drexel on Saturday, but for the first 30 minutes of action their on-ball defending was perhaps the best it's been all year. Dragons leading scorer Damion Lee was held to just 13 points on the afternoon and it might take a similar effort from the committee of Ross Travis, Geno Thorpe, and Payton Banks to slow down Mitola on Monday. D.J. Newbill and Brandon Taylor should be able to get theirs on the offensive end, and Dartmouth's offensive gameplan will neutralize the impact that Jordan Dickerson and Donovon Jack have on proceedings, so perimeter defense will be key. Based on what we saw this weekend, there shouldn't be too much cause for concern.

Prediction

Vegas making Penn State just an 8.5 point favorite here might raise some red flags (7-4 Northwestern is an 11.5 point favorite at home against UIC, for cryin' out loud), but the quick turnaround from Saturday won't allow for Chambers' squad to develop any complacency. The Nittany Lions head into New Year's Eve in Madison at 12-1 with a nine-point win over Dartmouth, 62-53.