Penn State, yet again, came extremely close on Monday against a Maryland team playing without some key players. A five-point lead late in the second half quickly turned into a four-, then six-point deficit, and that was that.
Penn State gets to atone for that with a game against a Northwestern squad that hasn’t looked as good as their preseason third place projection would have dictated. The Wildcats returned the most important pieces from an NCAA tournament, plus they got a few additions in the form of recruiting and players returning from injury. All in all, Northwestern shouldn’t look this pedestrian with the talent and experience they have coming back.
Scouting the opposition
The life of this team is point guard Bryant McIntosh. His stats are not as eye-opening as last season, but he’s still averaging 13.3 points per game on an eFG% of 44.6, while dishing out 5.5 assists per game, good for a 32.9 assist rate. You could tell how important McIntosh is to the Wildcats by seeing how they played against Nebraska without him. If McIntosh is somehow not able to go for this game, it might spell big trouble for Northwestern.
McIntosh isn’t the only wildcat, however, Scottie Lindsey, Dererk Pardon, and Vic Law all excel in different areas of the game to make the Northwestern team a balanced one: Lindsey’s turnover rate is the lowest of anyone on the floor on Friday (73rd in the country), Pardon’s block rate rivals that of defensive juggernaut Josh Reaves, and Law’s 43.1 percentage from three-point land would be second behind Tony Carr, were he a Nittany Lion (Reaves and Shep Garner both hover around 40% from three).
What to watch for
Will McIntosh Play? - Bryant has the highest assist rate, by far, of all Northwestern players. It makes sense since he plays the point, but the next best behind McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, has less than half his assist rate at 14.0*, and averages 2 assists per game. It will be a huge drop off from McIntosh to Jordan Ash, who got the start against Nebraska.
Can Penn State defend its own court? - The last time the Nittany Lions played Northwestern, around the same time last year, they were run out of their own gym. Can they remember that time and make sure it doesn’t happen again?
What kind of refs will we get? - If Northwestern is going to the line at four times the rate of Penn State, this game will be over quickly. Let’s hope we don’t get a repeat of Monday.
If McIntosh doesn’t play, I don’t think this game will be close. Yes, it’s Penn State, and yes, they’ll find a way to lose, as they always do, but unlike Maryland, who lost key pieces but still had production available, Northwestern is simply not the same team without McIntosh.
Without McIntosh: Penn State 78, Northwestern 62
With McIntosh: Northwestern 71, Penn State 69
*Of anyone who stands to see extended play.