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Penn State vs. Wisconsin Preview: The Badgers Are Beatable

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Pat Chambers never did beat Bo Ryan, but he has a shot at a good start against Greg Gard and this Badgers squad.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Wisconsin Badgers (10-9, 2-4)
When: Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: BTN
KenPom Rank: 61
Vegas Line: Wisconsin -2
Enemy Blog: Bucky's 5th Quarter

On Thursday night the Wisconsin Badgers travel to the Bryce Jordan Center to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions coming off of a big home win against Michigan State on Sunday. It was an important bounceback win for new head coach Greg Gard's team after Wisconsin had dropped three straight games to Indiana, Maryland, and Northwestern. Juniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes led the way for the Badgers, scoring 27 and 25 points respectively in the 77-76 win. That victory has taken some of the desperation out of this Wisconsin team, but it also has built them some confidence that they can compete in this conference under their new head coach.

Scouting The Opposition

Hayes is a returning player Big Ten fans are most certainly familiar with. The junior forward does a little bit of everything for the Badgers, leading the team in minutes, scoring, and assists. He is joined in the frontcourt by junior Vitto Brown and freshman Ethan Happ. Happ in particularly has had a strong redshirt freshman season, leading the team in steals and blocked shots.

The matchups down low could be a problem for Penn State. The Nittany Lions are notoriously prone to fouling, and Hayes and Happ both do an excellent job of getting to the free throw line. It will be important for forwards Jordan Dickerson, Julian Moore, Donovon Jack, and Brandon Taylor to defend the post without fouling.

The good news for Penn State is that Wisconsin is not a team that takes a ton of three-pointers, and nor do they shoot them particularly well. They generally run with a bigger lineup on the floor, with only guards Koenig and Zak Showalter playing large quantities of minutes on the perimeter. Koenig is the only above-average three-point shooter on the squad at 38%, so that particular achilles heel of the Penn State defense may not be exploited in this game. It also may make it easier for Penn State to play its 2-3 zone defense, which has been effective in deterring opponents' inside scoring.

What To Watch For

Unlike last year's national championship finalist, this is a classic Wisconsin "slow-it-down" team. The Badgers are one of, if not the slowest teams in the country in terms of tempo. Penn State has frustrated teams that like to push the ball when they have controlled tempo this season. That will not work against this Badgers team. Does Penn State intend to settle into their usual tempo against a team that is strong in the frontcourt, or do they switch things up to try to make Wisconsin uncomfortable by getting out in transition?

Prediction

I'm not sure that I am yet ready to feel good about Penn State in these "winnable game, but a better opponent" type of games. For one, I was unable to watch the Northwestern game so I have not seen it for myself yet this season. Second, I have a hard time imagining this team with some momentum in my head yet. I'm not saying it can't happen (and it would be great if it did), but I'm not at a point where I feel comfortable making that prediction yet. Wisconsin 60, Penn State 54