After a 2-0 start to the season, things have quickly gone south for Pat Chambers and the Nittany Lions. Following an overtime loss against a bad DePaul team and a three-point loss against an even worse Bradley squad, the Nittany Lions have lost two of three falling to 3-2 on the season.
Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, things are not getting any easier as No. 13 Virginia Tech brings a 5-0 record to the Bryce Jordan Center on Tuesday night. The Hokies present a tremendous challenge for the Nittany Lions, however, Penn State get a big boost from a returning Mike Watkins. Chambers told the media on Monday that Watkins will be a game-time decision on Tuesday night.
Scouting the Opposition
Now in his fifth season at the helm head coach Buzz Williams has guided the Hokies to back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths and this season he appears to have his best team yet in Blacksburg. The Hokies average 82.4 points per game and the 60.6 points per game they allow is 27th-best in the country. Williams appears to have built a legitimate ACC contender with this year’s squad.
Senior guard Justin Robinson is the leader of the team. He’s averaging 15.6 PPG this season to go with a 2.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Robinson is also one of two Hokie players averaging more than two steals per game, the other is Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Alexander-Walker leads the team in scoring (19.6 PPG) and rebounding (5.4 RPG). Senior Ahmed Hill (15.4 PPG) is a also a scoring threat for the Hokies.
The Hokie frontcourt is led by big many Kerry Blackshear Jr. The 6-foot-11 junior is averaging 12.4 PPG for the Hokies, and is carrying the weight of the frontcourt with forward Chris Clark suspended indefinitely. If Watkins does not play tonight, Blackshear Jr. could pose a massive problem for the Nittany Lions.
In the absence of Clark, all-team name member Ty Outlaw has stepped up to give Williams 21.2 minutes per game. However, Clark was the runner-up in ACC Sixth Man of the Year voting last season for a reason and is a big loss for the Hokies.
What To Watch For
Will Watkins Play? - Without a doubt the biggest question entering this game is the status of Penn State’s senior big man. A strong argument can be made that Watkins is the team’s most important player and that has shown through the first five games of the season. Penn State has struggled to rebound the ball and to generate any offense in the paint during Watkins’ absence. Combine this with Blackshear Jr. being the best big man the team has faced thus far this season and a lack of Watkins could create a slew of issues for the Nittany Lions tonight.
Protect The Ball - The Hokies are averaging 8.0 steals per game in the season’s early going. Robinson and Alexander-Walker are the two catalysts for the Hokies, but Hill and sophomore Wabissa Bede are both averaging a steal per game as well. The Nittany Lions can not get careless with the ball tonight.
Can The Nittany Lions End Their Ice Cold Shooting Ways? - In their loss to Bradley Penn State shot just 28.8% from the field. This included a miserable 14.8% from behind the arc. On the season, the Nittany Lions are shooting just 42.2% from the field and 32.3% from three. Only four Nittany Lion players (John Harrar, Josh Reaves, Lamar Stevens, and Myles Dread) are shooting greater than 40% from the field this season. If the Nittany Lions are going to get back on track, big time analysis coming here, they have to shoot better.
A victory on Tuesday night would go a long way toward getting the Nittany Lions back on track, but that does not seem likely. If Watkins plays and the team is not ice cold from the field, the Nittany Lions can make this a game and give the Hokies problems. But, ultimately, talent wins out. Virginia Tech 78, Penn State 66