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Penn State at Northwestern Preview: Someone Has To Win

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Penn State makes the return trip to face the Wildcats for the second time.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the season, both of these teams were projected to compete with the best of the Big Ten. Northwestern was expected to remain at the top of the conference, while the Nittany Lions were thought of as a dark horse team ready to make the jump. In both cases, disappointment has been the word to this point in the season.

Northwestern has changed its defensive strategy since the loss to Penn State two weeks ago, going from man to zone. Their defensive efficiency has improved as a result. Of course, that means the Nittany Lions will need to figure out a way to break those tendencies if they expect to have a chance in this game, as the last two teams to apply zone on this team have found great success.

Scouting the opposition

Nothing has changed drastically since the last time these two teams played. The Wildcats are still overly reliant on Bryant McIntosh, whose eFG% has dropped slightly since the teams last played. Scottie Lindsey is still struggling with his three-point shot, his turnover rate going down to 119th in the nation from the 73rd it was the last time the two teams played. Vic Law’s three-point rate is an even 40% now, down from the 43.3% it was last time.

Seemingly, every aspect of this team has gotten worse since they last played Penn State, and that is exemplified by having only won one game since that point. That said, the Nittany Lions have faced their own issues since then, having lost Josh Reaves for what looks like the remainder of the season, picking up injuries to both Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins, and suffering their own back-breaking losses along the way. Silver lining for the Lions is that, despite the bad, they haven’t looked as terrible as Northwestern has, not yet at least.

What to watch for

Can the Lions win another road game? - The Nittany Lions’ last road win came in December against Iowa. While all other losses have been close, this is an opportunity to get back on track with a win against an opponent they have beaten before.

Will Lamar’s hand hold? - According to Chambers, Lamar’s hand was swollen in the second half of the Minnesota game. Watkins’ injury was less severe, so he should be able to go, but what about Lamar?

Bench production - Pat Chambers himself said in his postgame press conference that the bench needs to be more productive. Let’s see how they get utilized in this game.

Ball hogging - Another point Chambers mentioned was that, while Tony Carr got hot late against Minnesota, he shouldn’t be taking as many shots overall in the game. Let’s see how they share the ball in this game, as the last time they beat the Wildcats, they had 15 assists (only 12 vs Minnesota with an extra five minutes of playing time).

Prediction

Both teams are in somewhat of a slump right now, with inconsistency being the name of the game. Penn State hasn’t been able to win on the road since beating Iowa, who is currently 1-6 in the conference and just finished getting blown out by Rutgers. It’s hard to not go with the home team here. Northwestern 78, Penn State 75.