|Who:||Northwestern Wildcats (18-11, 6-10)|
|When:||Tonight, 9:00 pm|
|Where:||Bryce Jordan Center|
|Enemy Blog:||Inside NU|
Penn State basketball senior nights always remind you of just how hard it is for players in this program. Nobody likes a loser and by definition, this group of seniors are losers. They only won 25% of their Big Ten games and never came close to the NCAA tournament. Their names will barely be remembered in this program's long forgotten history.
This evening, Brandon Taylor, Donovon Jack, Devin Foster and Jordan Dickerson will be honored for their careers pregame. Sadly, there will probably be some sarcastic cheers from the student section. Some fans can't wait to see some of these guys leave, and I can at least understand where they're coming from. My eyes certainly can't wait to be spared from Foster's free throws, Jack's fouls, Taylor's ball-stopping glory, and Dickerson's missed dunks.
However, their careers suffered from the same Penn State basketball disease that has buried many players before them. This community rarely supports you, because they don't think you give them a reason to. They don't care that you made the difficult choice to play basketball here. They don't care about the massive talent gap you compete against night in and night out. They don't care about how much harder your life is at Penn State as a basketball player than literally any other athlete on campus. You're just the joke program of the whole university.
We'll see what kind of turnout these seniors get, but with a 9:00 pm tip on the Thursday before spring break, you can bet your bottom dollar they will be playing in front of yet another sparse home crowd. No one seems to care that this team has overachieved everyone's expectations, because they still don't matter in the grand scheme of college basketball.
And that fact is eating at Pat Chambers. That's why he blew his lid at the Breslin Center. Sure, Tom Eades' awful call set him off, but it was another culminating moment of frustration for the head coach trying to succeed at one of the hardest jobs in the country. His players are given every reason to stop giving a shit every single day, but they have never checked out or stopped caring. That has meant the world to the embattled head coach, as it should. You're not seeing the suspensions here that you're seeing at Minnesota, Rutgers and Illinois, and that's a credit to these seniors. So if Chambers wants to tweak out to protect his players, then he should be celebrated and not criticized. At least these players have somebody who truly cares about them.
Scouting The Opposition
The last time these teams met, Northwestern still had a lot to play for. They were up against a really soft schedule to make their first NCAA tournament, but they did start out 3-2 in the Big Ten. Penn State pretty much ended any tournament discussion for the Wildcats with their 71-62 upset win. Chris Collins' team went on to lose 7 of their next 9 games after the PSU debacle.
In the Lions' road win in Evanston, the vast discrepancy in 3-point shooting was the difference. The Wildcats are usually a decent 3-point shooting club, but shot just 3-of-26 at home versus the Nittany Lions. They won't shoot that poorly again, especially freshman 4-man Aaron Falzon. The former PSU recruiting target has made eight threes in his last two games and has shot 35.7% on the season. He'll be looking to bounce back from a 1-for-9 performance against PSU earlier this year.
Northwestern also has Alex Olah back to full health. The 7-footer can be a difference maker if he's able to pressure PSU's bigs and force some foul trouble. He's made 65% of his 2's in the last three games while averaging 15 points and 6 rebounds.
What To Watch For
Brandon Taylor was superb in the first match between these two squads, and he'll have to duplicate that success for Penn State's offense to find its rhythm. When the ball's flowing through Taylor and he's able to navigate double-teams, the Lions' offense yields better shots. Shep Garner has also been on a tear lately, averaging 20.5 points and 4.5 made threes per game in his last four contests.
Defensively, it all starts with Bryant McIntosh. The sophomore point guard had great mid-range success against PSU's defense the first time around, and he still managed to record 10 assists in that game despite his teammate's woeful shooting. Penn State needs to do a better job against his penetration, or you may see them forced into more zone defense tonight. That worked in the first game because Northwestern couldn't hit the side of a barn. If they do go zone again tonight, it's imperative to not let Demps or Falzon heat up from beyond the arc.
Penn State is 4-2 at home in the Big Ten this season with a legitimate chance to finish 6-2. I have admired this team's resiliency and short memory all season long. They've been blown out and embarrassed multiple times, but they've been able to turn the page on every one of those games. Now they're sitting with 6 Big Ten wins and an outside chance at the NIT. I'm not picking against these guys. Penn State 70 Northwestern 65.