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Penn State vs. Wisconsin Preview: Please Don't Kill Us, Bo Ryan

Penn State hosts the best team in the Big Ten on Wednesday. It may get ugly.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Wisconsin Badgers (23-2, 11-1)
When: Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: The Fortress of Nightmares, State College, PA
KenPom Rank: 5
Vegas Line: Wisconsin -10
Enemy Blog: Bucky's 5th Quarter

I want you to have hope. I want you to believe. I want you to think that maybe, just maybe, Penn State can pull the home upset tonight. I want you to believe this, because I want to believe this. I want to think that this is the annual game at home against a ranked opponent where Penn State does everything right, where the shots that usually don't fall for the Nittany Lions fall, where the PSU defense is able to get one or two big stops against a superior squad and, when the buzzer sounds, the 17 students at the Bryce Jordan Center will storm the court in jubilation. That this will finally be the game where Penn State turns the corner this year, and it starts a miniature snowball effect that leads to the Nittany Lions being on the bubble on Selection Sunday.

However, none of this is going to happen. Wisconsin is a juggernaut, and while they aren't the best team in college basketball, they are unquestionably the best team in the Big Ten. This should be the kind of game where Penn State maybe pulls an upset, but Wisconsin is so damn good that we should get that out of our minds now. There should be no expectations other than "play hard." Wisconsin is horrifying, it is the boxer that wears you down with jabs until you collapse because you are physically unable to fight, and once that moment comes, they begin to beat the living shit out of you until you submit. This could get ugly.

Scouting the Opposition

Wisconsin is the best offense in college basketball. Their efficiency numbers are off the charts, so much so that this is the most efficient offense that KenPom has ever tracked, dating back to 2002. Wisconsin's adjusted offensive efficiency is 125.4, and in conference play, it is a 126.7. Yikes.

For a good example of just how good this offense is, just look at their pace numbers. According to KenPom's adjusted tempo, Wisconsin is 343rd in adjusted tempo. It just simply does not play fast. Despite this, the Badgers are fourth in the conference in scoring with 73.4 points per game. They are averaging nearly 1.2 points per possession. Hell, just look at the last time these two teams played: despite Penn State scoring 1.13 points per possession (really good!), Wisconsin won by 15 because it scored 1.40 points per possession (unfathomable!).

As for individual players, Wisconsin just happens to have the best player in the Big Ten and arguably the best college basketball player alive in Frank Kaminsky. The last time he went up against Penn State's frontcourt, he dropped 18 points and 14 rebounds in 33 minutes. His most amazing asset, in my humble opinion, is his ability to avoid picking up fouls, as he hasn't had more than three in a game this year and is averaging 2.2 fouls committed per 40 minutes, which for a seven footer is unreal. He also draws 5.4 fouls per 40 minutes, and he's going to go up against Jordan Dickerson (7.5 fouls committed per 40), Donovon Jack (8.2 FC/40) and Julian Moore (5.4 FC/40). Gulp.

Beyond that, Wisconsin has two spectacular forwards in Nigel Hayes -- who, true story, once used a strand of unscented dental floss to kill a rabid black bear -- and Sam Dekker, who is one of the rare players to be underrated, then overrated and is back to being underrated again. Also up front are Vito Brown and Duje Dukan, both of whom are really nice players who have carved out niches on this team. In the backcourt, the squad has a rotation of several guys in Bronson Koenig, Josh Gasser and Zak Showalter.

What To Watch For

If Penn State wants to have any chance at winning this game, it needs to play its best defensive game of the season against the high-powered Badgers attack. If Wisconsin gets into any kind of rhythm on offense, this game is over. The uglier this game is, the better it suits Penn State (and by "ugly," I mean "a bar fight on hardwood," not "slow"). Also: Wisconsin is 69th -- nice -- in KenPom's defensive efficiency. They aren't a great defense by any stretch of the imagination. D.J. Newbill needs to go off and get a lot of help from the usual cast of characters.


Penn State is not going to win this game. There is no reason for blind optimism, or any kind of optimism, really. This is not because PSU is bad, it's just because there is no logical -- or illogical, really -- reason to believe that it has any chance. Pat Chambers' guys will play their asses off, I have zero doubt in my mind about this. I also have zero doubt that Wisconsin is going to win by a lot. Let's say Badgers 83, Nittany Lions 65.