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Penn State at Indiana Preview: Favorites in Bloomington

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The Nittany Lions need to take advantage of a winnable road game.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

In the opening week of 2018, Penn State split their two Big Ten contests, losing at Maryland and defending the home court versus Northwestern. After their frustrating, but not inexcusable loss to the Terps, Friday’s game against the Wildcats should have provided a confidence boost to the team (Lamar Stevens in particular). If Stevens and Penn State can carry that moment into Bloomington, they should leave happy.

Opponent Summary

Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Indiana Hoosiers Tuesday, January 9, 6:30 PM Bloomington Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana BTN 91 9-7, (2-2) PSU -1

Last year in the two meetings between the teams, Indiana narrowly avoided defeat both times. At the Bryce Jordan Center a last-second 3 by James Blackmon Jr. sealed a 78-75 win for the Hoosiers. Then in Bloomington, Penn State took Indiana to triple overtime before falling 110-102. While Penn State’s roster hasn’t gone through much upheaval, Indiana has fared differently with players departing for the NBA and a new coaching staff coming in.

Scouting the opposition

Fortunately for Penn State, the players who hurt them the most in last year’s meetings, Thomas Bryant and James Blackmon Jr., are now playing in professional leagues. Indiana returns two of their top five scorers from 2016-17, Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk. Johnson has burned Penn State in the past, with 44 total points in the two games last season, and is coming off a career-high 28-pt performance against the Gophers.

Juwan Morgan has stepped into void in the paint left by Bryant’s departure, leading the team in scoring with 15.7 ppg. With the Hoosier best rim protector De’Ron Davis likely sidelined, Morgan will be forced to shoulder more responsibility on the defensive end. Finishing with 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks in Indiana’s win over Minnesota suggests that he might be up to the task.

Expect Juwan Morgan to finish with a double-double again tonight simply because of the volume of opportunities he will receive. Penn State’s best approach is to go right at him, and get Watkins and Stevens involved in the paint early on. Robert Johnson concerns me more as a senior volume-scorer playing at home. Keeping the game out of reach heading into the final five minutes, as they did versus Northwestern, is the best way to ensure Johnson can’t play spoiler as Penn State seeks their second Big Ten win on the road.

What to watch for

Which Lamar Stevens do we get? - Lamar Stevens has played very well in 2018, but he has shown a tendency in the past to disappear at times. If we get the physical, at-the-rim finisher Lamar, I am very confident in the outcome of this game. Based on the excitement in Lamar’s voice when he spoke during the radio post-game about facing Indiana next, I don’t think motivation will be an issue, and I think Stevens continues his strong play.

Control the Game flow - Penn State is considered the favorite heading into this game, they are the better team, and they need to play like it. While Indiana has home-court advantage, Penn State has the ability to start hot and limit the impact of the crowd if they’re mentally prepared. If they can do this, and impose their style of play on the Hoosiers, it should lead to a win.

Bench Production - This is a theme for the season, and the bench showed some life in the win over the Wildcats last week. Jamari Wheeler, Julian Moore and Nazeer Bostick contributed a total of 9 points. While meager, it’s a step in the right direction which hopefully continues tonight.

Prediction

A road win over a beleaguered Minnesota team without two starters is not enough to convince me that Indiana has figured it all out. Growing pains will likely continue throughout the year for Archie Miller’s team. Penn State’s two losses to the Hoosiers last year provide the fire to propel the Nittany Lions to an important win for a team with a narrow margin for error. Penn State 81, Indiana 72.