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Penn State vs Purdue Preview: Lions Embark on Their Road Tour

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Penn State is a rare double-digit underdog on the road against Purdue. Can they make the game close?

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent Summary

Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Indiana Hoosiers 6:30 PM EST, Wednesday, Februrary 1 Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Indiana) BTN 39 14-8, 4-5 Big Ten tba

Penn State embarks on its second two-game road stint of the season, this time against a much tougher pair of opponents. On Saturday, the Nittany Lions travel to West Lafayette to take on one of the favorite teams to win the conference in the Purdue Boilermakers. To say this is a huge test for these young Lions is an understatement, as this will be the best team they’ve faced at home or on the road since the tilt against Duke back in November.*

To say this game will be a test for the Lions is an understatement. While they’ve already shown they’ve made strides this season, going on the road against one of the best teams in the Big Ten, with a fanbase that fully supports them is a different challenge that they’ve yet to see so far in this young conference season, Michigan notwithstanding. Penn State will have to play its best basketball to date in order to stay competitive in this one, and a win will likely mean that the Nittany Lions transcended their own play to date.

Scouting the Opposition

Penn State football has the Twin Towers, a pair of wide receivers in Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles. Purdue has the basketball version of the Twin Towers in Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, at 6’9” and 7’2” respectively, which deservedly get most of the attention when talking about the Boilermakers. Each big is capable of eating up space and serving as a black hole down low to prevent opposing teams from doing anything on both offense an defense. In the case of Swanigan, he’s also able to punish you from outside, having a 47.2% rate from three, on 36 attempts.

Outside of the obvious bigs, Purdue is actually a very good shooting team this season, with an eFG% of 57.0, which is 13th in the nation according to Kenpom. Purdue brings a 40.6% rate from three as a team, with five different players, including Swanigan himself, shooting above 40% for the season. This presents a unique challenge for the boys in Blue, one that can take them out of the game fairly quickly if they’re not prepared.

What to Watch For

Will Penn State pick its poison, or will they try to do it all against this Purdue team cable of scoring from anywhere? Can Mike Watkins and Julian Moore have a presence inside, such that it forces the Boilermakers outside? Can the Lions finally have one game without an extended cold streak? If the Lions can properly answer those questions, they may be able to make this an interesting game.

Penn State has greatly improved its defensive effort of late, and it could prove to be the difference in this game. The last time Purdue played a team with this much defensive intensity in Minnesota, they actually lost in overtime. If Penn State can replicate that effort it will bode well for the Lions. However, they have to constantly produce on the offensive end if they want to complete the upset. Shep Garner found his shot late on Wednesday against Indiana. Can he be, as Hammer and Rails put it, the “Talor Battle Memorial Penn State Guard That Can Win A Game By Himself” in this game? What about Tony Carr, who had a career day himself against Indiana? The Nittany Lions will need both of them to be at their best, as well as a Mike Watkins that’s not sitting on the bench with foul trouble, and a Lamar Stevens reminiscent of the Michigan State game and not the Minnesota game.

As John Madden would say, if Penn State is able to challenge Haas and Swanigan inside without fouling, forcing Purdue to go outside, they could have a chance. Forcing Purdue to be one dimensional will make it much easier for the Lions to focus on one aspect of the game instead of getting burned on both ends.

Prediction

No amount of optimism can bring one to pick a victory in this game. On paper this should not be a contest at all. In their defense, Penn State has improved immensely since the season opener, and could make the game interesting if they play well above their current level. I think they have a good game, but Purdue is just too much for these young Lions.
Purdue 88, Penn State 70

*No disrespect to Michigan State, who may very well end up being one of the best teams in the conference when it’s all said and done.