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Penn State at Northwestern Preview: For Chrissakes, Don't Lose

We better not lose or I swear it'll get ugly around here.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Northwestern Wildcats (12-14, 3-10)
When: Saturday, 3:00 p.m. ET
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, IL
KenPom Rank: 123
Vegas Line: Northwestern -1 (via KenPom)
Enemy Blog: Inside NU

There are, probably, two teams in the Big Ten who are just straight up worse at basketball than Penn State. One of those teams is Rutgers. You know this by now. The other is Northwestern.

You know the perception of the program at the macro level: the Wildcats have never been to an NCAA Tournament and you usually find them somewhere between "near last" and "last" in the Big Ten. Sure, there have been plenty of fine players that have made their way through Evanston over the years, but none have exactly been stellar. The Wildcats usually play hard-ish, but the general lack of talent -- namely from an inability to recruit in Chicago, which is at worst the third-best basketball city in the world -- has killed Northwestern over the years.

This year is much of the same. Yeah there's a little talent, and yeah the squad plays hard, but it's just not enough. But do they have enough talent to take down Penn State? LET'S START PREVIEWIN':

Scouting the Opposition

Everything Northwestern does runs through star guard Dave Sobolewski. The 58th-year senior is dynamic, can score in bunches and is a fiend on defense. Honestly, it's Dave Sobolewski's world, and all of us mortals should thank the good lord (who also happens to be Dave Sobolewski) that we're living in it.

(Sorry, I just wanted to see what those three sentences looked like. Don't worry about Sobo Amaretto Lime. He is bad.)

So yeah, Northwestern has really, really struggled at times this year, especially on defense. The Wildcats are 337th in the country in defensive turnover rate, 304th in defensive three point percentage and 350th in steal percentage. You are going to be able to hold onto the ball and hit threes against Northwestern, which is kind of a recipe for beating any college basketball team. The Wildcats are, however, surprisingly good at defending against twos (63rd in the nation) and blocking shots (91st in block percentage, mostly because they have someone the size of Gregor Clegane at center).

Really, everything NU does comes down to three people: Bryant McIntosh, Tre Demps and Alex Olah. McIntosh is a true freshman guard who is going to be a gigantic pain in the ass for years to come. He has the ability to shoot from all over the court, as evidenced by his eFG% (50.4 percent), TS% (54 percent) and the FG%-3P%-FT% of 43.9-38.9-84.7 that he is throwing down. He also leads the team with 4.4 assists a night, and his 2.7 rebounds a game is very respectable for someone his size (6'3", 177 pounds).

Demps and Olah provide different issues. Both guys can score, and while Demps is really good at protecting the basketball (120th nationally in turnover rate), Olah is awesome at swatting balls left and right. He's 7'0" and 270 pounds, which should make for a nice (read: terrifying) challenge for Penn State's generally thin front line.

But really, outside of those three, NU doesn't have much. True freshman Vic Law can play a little (although he has been wholly outshined so far by McIntosh), JerShon Cobb is scary if he plays up to his ability and Dave Sobolewski is scary in that he sounds like the kind of guy who would own a Chrysler dealership.


See what I mean?

What To Watch For

How is Penn State's frontcourt going to deal with Olah? Sure, at times this year the Donovon Jack-Jordan Dickerson-Julian Moore three headed monster has played well, but all three are prone to struggling and, as we all know, fouling. Olah is surprisingly not bad at avoiding foul trouble and draws 4.6 fouls per game. He's also bigger and stronger than all three Nittany Lion frontcourt players. He's the kind of player who can give Pat Chambers fits with his ability to be bigger than everyone and block shots, as he is averaging 1.8 a night and is 81st nationally in block percentage. Look for Penn State to try and pull him out of the lane on defense so D.J. Newbill and the rest of the Nittany Lion guards can have a little more space to operate in the paint.


I'm way too optimistic about this game. I honestly have no clue why, but I am. The Wildcats, like the Nittany Lions, are not especially good. Both teams are perfectly meh-to-bad. Usually in games like this, I am inclined to take the team with the best player in the court. Fortunately, Penn State has one Devonte Jerrell Newbill, and Northwestern does not. For that reason, give me PSU 64, jNW 60.

Oh, and if Penn State loses? I'm gonna be maaaaaaaaaad.