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Penn State vs. Rutgers Preview: If Not Now, When?

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Despite the Scarlet Knights' 50-46 win in New Jersey less than a month ago, the Nittany Lions may not have a better chance at victory for the rest of the season.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-10, 2-5)
When: Saturday, Noon ET
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: ESPNU
KenPom Rank: 147
KenPom Line: PSU -6
Enemy Blog: On the Banks

It took six losses before Penn State got in the B1G win column last season, and they'll have to avoid a second defeat at the hands of Rutgers to match that feat this season. Eddie Jordan's Knights uglied their way to a four-point victory in Piscataway three weeks ago, a game in which neither team averaged more than .80 points per possession. Rutgers went on to upset Wisconsin a week later, but they've since lost their last three, the most recent of which came against a Caris LeVert-less Michigan at home. It's not a must win for Penn State - that would imply urgency as it relates to postseason hopes - but 0-7 just ain't a good look.

Scouting The Opposition

As seen in the reverse fixture, Rutgers doesn't have a ton of firepower. If Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack aren't playing at a high level, there aren't too many other Knights with the ability to put up double figures. Bishop Daniels may be the lone exception, as the junior guard has scored over 12 points in three of his last five games. Mack, however, is the danger man for Penn State. He's averaging 14.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game, the foremost and latter of which are team highs, and he's also the only RU player with an ORtg over 100 (PSU, for comparison's sake, has five players who exceed that threshold).

Even if Penn State keeps Rutgers down offensively, they'll have to show something a little extra when they have the ball. Jordan's defense encouraged the Lions to take poor shots all night, and PSU's awful shooting from beyond the arc (5-27) is what ultimately doomed them. Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner were the main culprits that evening, combining for 3-16 from deep. Luckily for Penn State, Taylor seems to have found his stroke after a horrid start to conference play - the junior forward is 6-11 from distance over the last two games. Shep's still looking to find his way in the B1G, though his leash may be tightening with the emergence of Devin Foster in East Lansing. Fun fact! The JuCo transfer has yet to miss a shot from the field in his Division I career (3-3 from the floor, 5-5 from the line).

What To Watch For

Three point shooting comes and goes, as Indiana will tell you, but Penn State has to do a better job of defending without fouling if they ever want to get off the bottom of the league standings. The Nittany Lions' defensive free throw rate is 48.5% during conference play, tied for last in the B1G with Purdue. Rutgers needs all the help they can get offensively, so it would behoove the usual suspects (Donovon Jack, Geno Thorpe, Jordan Dickerson) to stay out of foul trouble. And not to question the integrity of the fine gentlemen refereeing this game, but watch to see if Pat Chambers' postgame comments on Wednesday night will have any effect on the whistles on Saturday.

Prediction

Much like the Nebraska game at this same stage a year ago, Penn State is in desperation mode. They may need D.J. Newbill to drop another 30 points, but something has to go right for this team at some point. They've played well enough over the last two games that another similar performance should see them earn a victory, so I'll be a fool yet again and predict a win - Penn State 62, Rutgers 58. Please don't put money on this game.