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Penn State Basketball Preview: Lions Look to Exorcise Rec Hall Demons against Canisius

The Lions return to Rec Hall looking to avenge the Princeton massacre, but they must face another opponent that could give them fits from the 3-point line.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Canisius Golden Griffins (3-4)
When: Tonight, 7:00 pm
Where: Rec Hall
TV: BTN Plus
KenPom Rank: 161
Vegas Line: Penn State -5

Penn State returns to their old digs tonight as part of Chambers' plan to re-energize the fan base and stir interest in his program. But for that plan to pay dividends, they can't blow 20-point, second-half leads that turn storybook endings into storybook meltdowns. This year, they welcome Canisius and Lousiana-Monroe to Rec Hall as part of the Las Vegas Classic's campus-site games. Tonight's opponent won't leave many feeling good about PSU's chances to avoid another nightmare.

Scouting The Opposition

Out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Canisius is coached by former Rhode Island frontman, Jim Baron. The long-time head coach is in his fourth season at the school and 29th overall at the D1 level. His team was picked to finish 6th this season in the MAAC behind teams like Iona, Manhattan, Siena and everyone's favorite bench mob, Monmouth.

Speaking of Monmouth, the Hawks have been a national story in the non-conference season with upsets over UCLA and Notre Dame. But the MAAC has already started conference play, and Canisius lit them up last week in a 96-86 win. Monmouth is currently ranked 89 in KenPom with a top-60 defense, but they yielded 16 threes to the Golden Griffins. So yeah, you can start worrying now.

Canisius' strength so far has been its long range shooting. They go nine-deep and nearly everyone in their rotation will let it fly. They are led by Central Connecticut grad-transfer, Malcolm McMillan, who is averaging 21.3 PPG on an absurd 69.1% true shooting percentage (nice). Junior Phil Valenti and sophomore Kassius Robertson are also averaging double-digits and more than 2 made threes per game. This team will greatly test the Lions' shaky perimeter defense, as they shoot an average of 30 threes per game.

The good news for Penn State is Canisius doesn't defend well in any area. They rank 308th in adjusted defensive efficiency and have surrendered more than 77 points in every game so far with the exception of a bad Cornell team. Penn State will need to take advantage of this porous unit and find a way to improve upon their mediocre shooting percentages so far. There will be opportunities in the paint and from the perimeter for the Lions' supporting cast to build some confidence.

What To Watch For

Obviously how well Penn State defends the perimeter will go a long way in determining this game's outcome. Unlike George Washington (who the Lions dared to beat them from beyond the arc), Penn State's defensive gameplan will be focused on contesting shooters. The Griffins lack the size and an inside game down low to put pressure on Penn State's bigs. Fouling should not be an issue tonight, but staying disciplined has never been this team's calling card.

Offensively, the Lions must keep pace if Canisius goes on a flurry. Brandon Taylor must be strong throughout, while Shep Garner will need to continue his hot streak. This could also be a great opportunity for some of the struggling freshman to finally start making some threes. Josh Reaves, Isaiah Washington, and Davis Zemgulis are shooting a combined 3-38 from three so far in their careers. I wouldn't be surprised to see Julian Moore and Donovon Jack have some success in the paint either.

Prediction

I refuse to predict a second straight loss in this venue. While Canisius can shoot it in similar fashion to Duquense and Radford, this is still a team Penn State should beat. It may be a higher scoring affair if Canisius is able to play to their pace, but Penn State should control the tempo and keep this one under 70 possessions. The Golden Griffins will make some threes, but they'll give up some easy buckets as well. Give me the Nittany Lions in a 79-69 victory.