Penn State wasn’t given much of a chance against Notre Dame, and for good reason. The Fighting Irish looked to be getting back to form, handing Hampton a swift, merciless defeat. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions were bleeding players while coming off one of the ugliest games of their season, in which they trailed for most of the game and needed last-minute heroics to win.
Naturally, the Lions responded by becoming the first road team to win a game in the NIT to that point, leading for the entire game. Notre Dame made its runs, but none were enough to close the game out in their favor. The Lions looked in control from start to finish, and made the previous game against Temple look like an aberration, a game where the team was getting used to the new rules more so than a bad outing.
Penn State now finds itself one road victory away from being back at Madison Square Garden. If they want to return to the arena, they’ll have to stop yet another high-powered offensive team in the Marquette Golden Eagles. Marquette is a more extreme version of Notre Dame, ranking 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency, but an atrocious, 177th-ranked defensive efficiency rating makes for a lot of high scoring games. If Penn State can have another masterful performance on defense, and if they can avoid having a dud of a game from any of the Big Four, this should be another manageable road victory en route to an NIT Final Four appearance.
Scouting the Opposition
Marquette will be one of the best offensive teams Penn State faces all season. Every offensive efficiency category sees an Eagles player ranked. Leading the pack is Sam Hauser, whose offensive rating of 129.8 is is 13th in the nation. Hauser’s eFG%, at 63.6, is 32nd in the nation. If that weren’t enough, Marquette has four players shooting over 40% from three, with Hauser shooting an incredible 49.2% from beyond the arc. Andrew Rowsey, Markus Howard, and Jamal Cain are shooting 41.0, 40.7, and 47.2 percent, respectively. Stopping the assault from behind the arc will be paramount to Penn State’s success in this one.
Lucky for the Lions, the aforementioned defensive deficiency* should make getting looks on offense equally manageable for the Lions. The Eagles are 196th in turnover rate on defense, and only a mediocre 96th on offense, so this should be a game where Josh Reaves, Jamari Wheeler, and the gang have a good day making life miserable for their opponents. To go along with that, Marquette is not a good rebounding team, ranking below 200 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. If Penn State is able to slow Marquette down on offense, the Eagles’ defense should bend enough to make it more than just a game.
What to Watch For
Press State - The one strategy that helped Oregon nearly make a comeback on Sunday was pressing late in the game. This not only led to a number of turnovers, but also a number of dumb fouls by the Eagles. If Penn State can make Marquette uncomfortable from the start, they have a chance at preventing the game from getting out of hand.
Will Nazeer Bostick Play? - Against a team that runs as much as Marquette does, the Nittany Lions will need all the help they can get depth-wise. Having that extra body to give everyone else rest will be paramount. Pat Chambers said Bostick’s status will be a game time decision.
Steal, steal, steal - Barring a transcendent shooting performance from the Nittany Lions, the best way to slow down Marquette will be to allow them fewer possessions. The Eagles’ aforementioned turnover rate will make this much easier than against Notre Dame, ranked 9th in the country still in that category.
Marquette’s defense leaves a lot to be desired. But, for as bad as their defense is, their offense is that much better. Penn State’s defense is one of the best in the nation, but I don’t know that they can stop two top 30 offensive teams in consecutive games. Marquette 96, Penn State 74.
*Get it? Deficiency?