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Penn State at Wisconsin Preview: Lions Dive Head-First Into Conference Play

The Nittany Lions could be in for a rude awakening in Madison after a dream start, but even a blowout loss won't go far in determining their postseason fate.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Wisconsin Badgers
When: dec. 31, 1:00 p.m. ET
Where: Kohl Center
KenPom Rank: 4
Vegas Line: Wisconsin -18.5
Enemy Blog: Bucky's 5th Quarter

One one hand, this is the worst possible conference opener for Penn State. Wisconsin is clearly the class of an otherwise ragtag B1G, and the Nittany Lions haven't played anybody in Bucky's stratosphere in their 13 non-conference games. On the other hand, this is the perfect time for Penn State to play Wisconsin. A blowout defeat in the first game of the conference season won't determine their fate in the slightest, and if D.J. Newbill and co. can somehow pull off the upset, well...let's worry about that when we get to it.

Scouting The Opposition

KenPom always seems to love Bo Ryan's Badgers. This season is no exception and both the AP and Coaches' Polls agree with Pomeroy's fourth overall ranking. All this to say - Wisconsin's pretty dang good. Specifically, Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and Nigel Hayes are pretty dang good. Kaminsky, a preseason All-American who averages 16.5 ppg, is the frontrunner for KenPom Player of the Year as of today. Dekker averages 12.9 per contest and shoots nearly 60% inside the arc. Hayes is perhaps the most efficient player of the three (126.3 ORtg), and is perhaps the best third-scoring option in the country on teams not named Kentucky. Penn State usually does a very good job of defending the paint, but they'll have their hands full with this trio.

As for the supporting cast, there are a number of players who qualify for potential Role Player That Torches Penn State status. I'll single out Josh Gasser, who went for a team-high 15 points in last season's only meeting at the Bryce Jordan Center. He's finally a senior and he's playing like one this season, shooting 44% from deep.

Statistically speaking, does Penn State have any advantage in this matchup? No, not really. Sorry to get your hopes up with that rhetorical question.

What To Watch For

There's no way around it - Penn State has to play their best offensive game of the season to compete with these juggernauts. In last season's 71-66 defeat, the Lions got off to a slow start before keeping pace with the Badgers for the final 30 minutes and actually outscoring them 55-54. But this is a new season, and this is also the Kohl Center. D.J. Newbill will have to do his usual D.J. Newbill stuff, and his supporting cast will have to hit behind the arc to go shot for shot with Wisconsin.


It's a matchup of 12-1 teams, but it sure doesn't feel like one. Wisconsin is clearly the better team here, and they should take care of business in their home opener. 18.5 points does feel like a lot of points to spot these Nittany Lions though, who have proven to be nothing if not resilient under Pat Chambers. I'll say 80-68, with the Badgers pulling away after a tight first half.