|Tuesday, Feburary 7th, 6:00 PM EST
|Bryce Jordan Center (University Park, PA)
|20-3, 8-2 Big Ten
It’s been a rough two weeks for these here Nittany Lions. On December 3rd, Penn State had just finished putting away Wright State, and found themselves ranked 99th in KenPom. Fast forward to today, and the Lions have dropped to 123rd on KenPom, while losing to George Mason in embarrassing fashion, and to Pitt in a valiant comeback effort that came just short.
Not everything is terrible, however. In the second half against Pitt, Penn State showed they have the pieces to compete. All they need is consistency, and a way to limit their slow starts to stay with teams. Even if they become a version of their football counterparts, digging 20-point holes rarely leads to winning situations.
The Nittany Lions now travel to New York City to face a St. John’s team that is having issues of their own, having already lost six games this season. Five of those losses happened in a losing streak, and two came against Delaware State and LIU Brooklyn. For as mediocre as Albany and George Mason may be, LUI Brooklyn and Delaware State are that much worse.
While Penn State should take no opponent lightly moving forward (this game is on the road against a team ranked ahead of them in KenPom, after all), this should be an opportunity for Penn State to establish some of what worked well against Pitt in the second half, and build upon that to become consistently productive on both offense and defense.
Scouting the Opposition
Marcus LoVett has been sidelined for a few games due to injury, but Shamorie Ponds had not disappointed in his own role. The freshman 61% eFG rate, with a 44% 3-point shot rate to go along with it. Ponds, however, is not the most efficient 3-point shooter on the team. That honor goes to Federico Mussini, who is an astounding 50% from long range so far this season (on 55 attempts). With Bashir Ahmed rounding out the shooters for St. John’s, Penn State will have their hands full with a number of guys who can light up the scoreboard from deep.
Like Penn State, St. John’s also suffers from a lack of height, having only two guys over 6’8” on the team (Tariq Owens and Amar Alibegovic). The third player, Yankuba Sima, elected to transfer midseason. It may have not mattered much against George Mason, but it would be highly alarming if Penn State were to get outworked inside by two teams having the same, or worse, height problems as Penn State has.
What to Watch For
I’m almost inclined to copy and paste my evaluation before the George Mason game: If Penn State is able to establish themselves inside, and if they’re able to start making shots early, they should be OK. If neither of these things happen, it will be a long day for the Lions. If only one happens, expect this game to go down to the last minute.
Penn State needs to get something, anything, out of Julian Moore in this game to allow Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens some breathing room inside. It would be beneficial to let the pace slow down a little, as many of the Nittany Lions’ mistakes this season have come due to rushed, uncontrolled possessions on offense.
Lastly, of course, the Lions need to protect the perimeter against a team that has the ability to pour it on from outside. With Penn State’s patented cold stretches, you want to avoid getting down too big due to St. John’s getting hot from three.
While that second half against Pitt showed promise, I can’t bring myself to predict anything better than a close loss for the Nittany Lions. They’ll probably look better overall than they have for most of the season, but St. Johns just has a little extra in them.
Penn State 77, St. John’s 81