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Big Ten Tournament Semifinals Preview: Penn State vs. Purdue

The path to the NCAA tournament is clear, and Purdue stands in the way.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Penn State Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the absence of Mike Watkins from the lineup, fans had reason to be optimistic heading into yesterday evening’s tilt against Ohio Sweep. Even without “Big Mike” the teams matched-up on paper, and a strong performance from Tony Carr, with support from Stevens, Garner and Reaves, was just enough to get the job done. Now that the Buckeyes are swept away for this iteration of Big Ten Basketball, the Nittany Lions move on to the semi-finals to face the Boilermakers.

Opponent Summary

Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Purdue Boilermakers Saturday, March 3, 4:30 pm Madison Square Garden, New York City CBS 5 27-5 (15-3) TBD

The team is one win away from a true play-in game with an NCAA tournament auto-bid on line, but this is the next best thing. A win over #8 should put Penn State on the right side of the bubble with a week to sweat it out and hope it stays that way. Let’s see what they’re up against to keep the in-or-out conversation alive.

Scouting the Opposition

Since tearing through the first 34 of the conference schedule unbeaten, Purdue has come back down to Earth. A three-game losing streak against the best of the Big Ten (and Wisconsin) was halted in a tightly contested game at Mackey Arena with Purdue topping Penn State 76-73. The Boilermakers were without second team All-Big Ten selection, Vince Edwards, while the Lions only got 9 minutes out of Mike Watkins due to foul trouble.

It was an impressive showing on the road, and Penn State looked like a team capable of exacting revenge should they see Purdue on a neutral court at MSG. Now, with Edwards back in the lineup, and Watkins unavailable, the confidence that Penn State can pull this off diminishing. They’re coming off a hard-fought win against Ohio State, and will be playing their third game in as many games. Then again, Purdue went down to the wire in their late-night win over Rutgers, so they aren’t exactly well-rested either.

Keys to the Game

  • Three-Point Shooting - Penn State shot 50% from 3pt-range during their visit to Mackey, and shot 47% from 3 last night. They’re going to need to hover around that 50% mark to keep the game close. As with the quarterfinals, it will be crucial to stay within striking distance and not allow Purdue to open up an early lead.
  • Edwards and Edwards - Vincent and Carsen Edwards combined for 52 points last night against Rutgers and carried the team’s offense. Penn State avoided Vincent in their first match-up, and it will be up to Lamar Stevens to shut him down, while producing on the offensive end. Carsen Edwards lit up the Nittany Lions for 27 points a few weeks ago, and his ability to score from anywhere on the court will challenge Josh Reaves.
  • Supporting Casts - Will Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline deliver crushing 3s down the stretch to enable Purdue to pull away, or will Shep Garner and Josh Reaves get hot and propel Penn State to an upset victory? Pat Chambers will need more than the Carr and Stevens show in order to reach the championship.


Penn State’s effort last night, combined with the fact that Watkins played such a small role in their first game against Purdue does give me some hope. A hot shooting performance, coupled with strong perimeter defense at the other end will give them a fighter’s chance. At this point no opposing team wants to deal with Tony Carr in the final moments of a close game. Unfortunately, Purdue’s size and offensive efficiency will prove to be too much. Penn State’s starters struggle with foul trouble, and we’re left cheering against other bubble teams for the next 8 days. Purdue 75, Penn State 66.