You can only be so mad when your favorite basketball team loses to a highly-ranked opponent on the road. And yeah, falling to any team is unfortunate. But you know what? Penn State fought until hell froze over against Wisconsin today, and after that happened, it fought on the ice.
Sure, the scoreline wasn't what we wanted, even though Penn State covered the spread, which was nice. But it was still a valiant effort by the Nittany Lions, who fell to 12-2 on the year after today's 89-72 loss to Wisconsin, which just happens to be the best team in the Big Ten.
This game really was a tale of two halves. In the first, Penn State blitzed Wisconsin. Outside of some issues with turnovers, Penn State played as perfectly as it could. The Nittany Lions were hitting seemingly every shot they took, rebounding like mad and moving the ball/finding the open man whenever necessary. Sure, Wisconsin also played really well, which is why it took a 43-36 lead into the locker room, but Penn State played a near-perfect half of basketball (save for some turnovers)...
...which is what made the outcome of this game so unsurprising. Penn State stopped hitting every shot it took once the second half started, which shouldn't shock anyone, because that kind of performance isn't sustainable for most teams. It stopped having fantastic spacing and ball movement. Wisconsin made a bunch of perfect halftime adjustments, so Penn State stopped playing like it did during the first half. Unfortunately, Wisconsin did keep playing the way it did in the first half, which led to a pretty comfortable win for the Badgers.
But Penn State fought. It took plenty of punches and didn't back down. Outside of a tendency to settle for long twos -- death to those by everyone who isn't Newbill, by the way -- it played hard, and just got out-everything'd by one of the three best teams in America.
Four Factors Analysis
Holy eFG%, Batman! Penn State actually shot really, really well from the field. The squad went 29-for-54 from the floor and 5-for-12 from three. That's really good! It's something that is hopefully sustainable for the rest of the year, because if Penn State shoots like that all season, it will win more games than it loses.
The issue is Wisconsin is an offensive juggernaut. It has the fourth most efficient offense in the country, per KenPom, and it nuked Penn State. The Badgers' points per possession was outrageous, their eFG% was crazy (they went 30-for-47 from the field and 5-for-12 from three) and it got to the free throw line at a remarkable rate. If Wisconsin plays like this all year, it is going to run away with the Big Ten and will play for a national championship.
Player of the Game -- D.J. Newbill
Remember the game against Pitt last year, where Tim Frazier knew it was a big game, came out and took it to the Panthers from the start? Newbill did something similar to that today. His first half stats were just absurd: 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal. Outside of his three turnovers, he was in complete control of the game. When Penn State needed a bucket, they gave the ball to D.J., he shook some defenders on the perimeter, created separation and drilled a jumper from the free throw line. Unfortunately, his most impressive jumper -- one in which he was fouled, threw the ball at the rim on a whim and it somehow went in -- didn't count, but still, good on D.J.
As for the second half, listen, we knew that Bo Ryan's halftime adjustment was going to be "stop Newbill." And it worked. This is why Bo Ryan may be the best coach in the Big Ten. Still, D.J. found a way to get buckets, even though he was essentially being badgered (no pun intended) by Wisconsin's defense. He ended the game with 29 points on 11-for-18 shooting with 2 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist. Not too shabby for the second best player in the Big Ten, behind only Frank Kaminsky. This isn't really debatable at this point.
- Bunch of
FuckersFighters: Wisconsin jumped out to an 8-0 lead to start the game. Think about past Penn State teams and how it would respond in such situations. Last year, if Penn State got knocked down early, it stayed down. Today, the Nittany Lions fought. And then they kept fighting. And then when Wisconsin would get some more momentum, they would fight some more. At the very least, this is a team that isn't going to lose any games this year due to a lack of heart.
- Bad Titty: The good news is that today showcased how important Brandon Taylor is to this team. The bad news is he had his worst game of the year. Titty's line today: 2 points, 1-for-7 shooting, 0-for-3 from deep, 2 rebounds, 1 turnover, no blocks, no assists, no steals. Even worse, that doesn't show how bad he was on defense, as Wisconsin's perimeter guys sliced him up. Hopefully he shakes it off and comes back with a huge game the next time out. But still, man, that was a terrible, terrible game.
- Geno Comin': So Geno Thorpe prooooooobably isn't ready to contribute for 32+ minutes a game yet. But still, he did his usual Geno stuff this afternoon, as he attacked on both ends of the court and ended up with 11 points. He needs to stop settling for long twos, which he did A LOT today, but other than that, he played well. He's going to win Penn State at least one game this year.
Penn State travels to "lovely" New Brunswick on Jan. 3 to take on Rutgers. The Nittany Lions go from playing the best team in the Big Ten to the worst. Rutgers is so, so bad, you guys. They're 8-6 with an 0-1 mark in the conference this season. Still, people at Rutgers consider Penn State a rival -- a feeling that isn't reciprocated, as we all know -- so you can expect that their fans and whatever students in attendance will be fired up. The RAC is also one of those places that can be really, really tough to play in when the fans are going. This could be a tough game, but it's one that Penn State can't afford to lose if it has Tournament aspirations.