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Penn State vs Wisconsin Preview: The Road Gets Tougher

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After the blowout loss against Purdue, Penn State looks to have a better showing against Wisconsin.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Penn State Rich Barnes-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

Coming into this season there were three Big Ten teams Pat Chambers had never beaten in his tenure. After the game against Michigan State, that list has gone down to two. The Nittany Lions have the opportunity to whittle that list to one if they can do the impossible and beat the Badgers on Wednesday night at the Kohl Center. The Badgers are one of the best home teams in the Big Ten, rarely losing at the Kohl Center. Combine that with Wisconsin being one of the best teams in the Big Ten this season, and you can start to see the massive uphill climb the Nittany Lions will embark in this game.

The good news this time around is that, unlike Purdue, Penn State matches up much better against this Badgers squad. The size advantage Purdue posed against the Lions is not as drastic with Wisconsin, which could allow for the Lions to play more comfortably than they did on Saturday. Also, the Nittany Lions could be catching Wisconsin at the right time, as the Badgers’ recent play against Michigan and Minnesota has made them look more human against teams close to Penn State’s caliber.

Scouting the Opposition

Wisconsin is the slowest team in the Big Ten, and one of the slowest in the nation, with an adjusted tempo of 63.8 possessions per 40 minutes. What they lack in pace they make up for in efficiency, having the third most efficient team in the Big Ten so far. This has been a staple of Wisconsin for many years now, and it’s made even better by having every player from last season return this year.

Wisconsin’s returning cast includes the preseason player of the year and overall threat Nigel Hayes, trusty sharp shooter Bronson Koenig, and inside black hole Ethan Happ. Those three, along with Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter, take up the majority of the minutes on Wisconsin’s roster. D'Mitrik Trice and Khalil Iverson make frequent appearances, with the former being 55% from three this season, so Penn State should take note when Trice is on the floor. With Vitto Brown’s status for the game still uncertain as of this writing, there’s a strong chance Wisconsin may look to make up that production with Trice’s ability from outside.

What to Watch For

There are two things* Penn State needs to do if it wants to win this game. First and foremost, they need to speed Wisconsin up. The Badgers are not comfortable running up and down the floor, so the more possessions the Lions can force, the better their chances at staying with the Wisconsin in this game. In tandem with the first point, Penn State has to ensure Wisconsin has empty possession on the offensive end. Josh Reaves will need to have his imprints all over the game in order to take Wisconsin out of their comfort zone and into the Nittany Lions’.

Mike Watkins is another player who needs to have a good game if the Lions are to compete. If Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes are allowed to do whatever they want inside, a repeat of Purdue will be very likely. This game will not be won outside, and while having Payton Banks and Shep Garner find their shots consistently would be welcome, this is not a game the Nittany Lions can afford to turn into a 3-point contest. That is a contest they’ll lose every time.

Prediction

This is certainly a game Penn State can be competitive in. Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes are two of the best players in the Big Ten, but they’re not Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan. If Penn State is able to play their own game and force Wisconsin to speed up, and if Vitto Brown does end up missing this game, it’s likely that the Lions can stay in it till the end. Predicting a win however, as with Purdue a few days ago, is just not realistic.
Wisconsin 67, Penn State 59.

*There are really many things they need to do, but I digress.