Last year’s NCAA Tournament darlings after knocking off #1-overall seed UVA as a #16 seed, the Retrievers have fallen out of the national spotlight. Losing three starters from the team that won the American East Conference in 2018 signaled a return to the mean for a program that did the unthinkable.
Scouting the Opposition
The Retrievers lost 68% of their scoring from last year, and a trio of players have stepped up to carry the load offensively. Returning starter Arkel Lamar is averaging 10.1 points, 5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. He’s likely to match-up against Penn State’s Lamar Stevens (with help). His ability to force turnovers could hamper Stevens early-on.
Joe Sherburne leads the team in minutes, and in scoring, averaging 14 points per game. He’s currently shooting an impressive 47.1% from three, hitting 24 of 51 attempts. He’ll rotate from power forward to shooting guard depending on the match-ups and opposing lineups, not unlike Josh Reaves.
In the paint, Brandon Horvath is the Retrievers best scoring option, averaging 11.5 points per game. Horvath will split time with Max Curran, who is less skilled offensively, but the best rim protector on the roster. At 6 foot 10 and 6 foot 9, UMBC has the size to challenge Mike Watkins, but he has the skill to impose his will if he can get into the flow.
UMBC is rated 311th in adjusted offensive efficiency, which plays into Penn State’s strength on the defensive end. The Retrievers have also struggled with offensive rebounds, and I like the Nittany Lions chances if they are able to limit second chance opportunities. When Penn State has the ball it will be critical for them to hold onto it. UMBC has forced turnovers on 24.7% of opponents’ possessions, good enough for 9th in the country. If they’re able to turn the ball over with success similar to what Duquesne did last week, it could be a stressful afternoon.
What To Watch For
Atmosphere - While the BJC has never been hailed a major source of home-court advantage, it is especially lacking in excitement and energy over Winter break. Last year Penn State fell to Rider, in what should have been an easy win. Will they bring enough of their own energy tomorrow to leave on top?
Taking care of the ball - While UMBC won’t be the toughest test of the non-conference schedule, they should pose some challenges with their defensive effort. At times, Penn State has looked uncoordinated as they move the ball to beat the press. This game will give Rasir Bolton, Jamari Wheeler and Josh Reaves opportunities to figure things out before going up against Michigan.
Creativity - I expect Chambers to experiment a bit tomorrow, especially if the team builds a comfortable lead. After his performance against Alabama, it seems Trent Buttrick is due for more playing time. I’d also like to see designed plays for Mike Watkins to try and get him more involved. If the team is cruising, it’d be nice to see Reaves and Watkins re-establish their chemistry from last year.
This should be a low-scoring affair. As in, be surprised if UMBC hits 60. Turnovers and a lack of energy in the arena have the potential to keep things close in the first half, but ultimately Penn State will coast to a comfortable double-digit victory. Penn State 72, UMBC 54