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Penn State at Big Ten Powerhouse Rutgers Preview: Lions Look For First Conference Win

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After shooting the lights out for one half at the Kohl Center, Penn State looks for their first win in 2015 against a struggling Rutgers team.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
When: Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Rutgers Athletic Center
TV: ESPN 2, WatchESPN
KenPom Rank: 160
KenPom Line: PSU -2
Enemy Blog: On The Banks

Penn State certainly raised some eyebrows with their shooting efforts in one of the toughest environments in college basketball earlier this week, but the toughest game on the Nittany Lions' conference schedule is out of the way. The question becomes how this team can rebound after getting pushed around, especially defensively, and pick up a conference road win. Rutgers simply doesn't have the personnel that Wisconsin displays, but we know how much it means to that fanbase any time Penn State comes to Piscataway.

Scouting The Opposition

Expect this to be the prototypical Big Ten grind of a game this time out and not like the game in Madison that featured a combined 79 points in the first half. Far from it. Rutgers is 324th in the country in scoring, averaging 59.5 points per game, including a 26-point effort earlier in the year against Virginia. Seniors Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack lead the Scarlet Knights in scoring accounting for almost half of the Scarlet Knights' offensive output this season. Mack leads the Knights with 13.9 points per game and 4.7 assists per game. He's a good free throw shooter when given the chance at 84.3 percent on the young season and is much more comfortable facilitating from the perimeter than shooting beyond the arc.

Jack is the man down low that can give Donovon Jack and Jordan Dickerson trouble. On top of his 12.2 points per game this season, this is a guy that likes to use his athleticism on the offensive glass. Defensively, Rutgers' ability to alter shots allows their guards to play a lot more aggressively on the perimeter. The Scarlet Knights average just under five blocks per game, so Penn State may need their hot shooting to continue at the RAC to take pressure off their interior presence.

What To Watch For

I would like to see Penn State's half-court defense make more of an impact this time out. Wisconsin was allowed a lot of uncontested shots and guards were able to be very comfortable when they came off screens away from the ball. Look for Penn State to try and ramp up the tempo and force Rutgers into some quick shots. Rutgers shoots just under 30% as a team from beyond the arc, so expect Penn State to pack the inside of the perimeter forcing Rutgers to make outside shots.

Prediction

Penn State is one of the only teams in the Big Ten that's avoided the 'bad loss' up to this point. After a very positive performance from the last time out, I don't see the Lions dropping this one to an inferior opponent. It's unfair to ask any team in the country to shoot at least 50% every time out, but Penn State's defense will be the deciding factor in this game. Penn State wins and keeps Rutgers searching for that first Big Ten victory, 61-51.