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Penn State Basketball Preview: No. 22 Wisconsin

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The Nittany Lions return to the BJC looking for their first win in conference play.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Badgers have stumbled recently, dropping each of their last two games, on the road against Western Kentucky, and at home against Minnesota. Prior to those losses they were starting to resemble a dark horse candidate to win the Big Ten with wins over NC State and Oklahoma, and close losses to UVA and Marquette. Like Penn State, Wisconsin is in need of this win to get back on track.

Following their loss to Michigan on Thursday, the schedule hardly lets up for Penn State. With a trip to Nebraska and a home game against Michigan State on deck, a win today would go a long way. Wisconsin comes to town following a rare home loss versus Minnesota in which they only scored 52 points. Can the Nittany Lions replicate the defensive success of the Gophers?

Scouting The Opposition

Ethan Happ has had an excellent career for the Badgers, and in his senior year he’s been playing his best basketball, averaging 19.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. He’s doing less work around the perimeter on offense, which may bode well for Mike Watkins. As always, Watkins’ ability to defend will be influenced by foul trouble, and I’m curious to see if Keith Urgo starts Harrar tonight as Chambers did against Michigan.

D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison round out the scorers averaging double-digits for Wisconsin. Trice is shooting an impressive 48.7% from beyond the arc on eighty attempts. Davison can do a bit of everything on offense, but is more notorious for his knack for drawing charges on the other end.

Wisconsin is efficient at both ends of the court, and if they’re able to find success on offense it may be difficult for Penn State to keep up. The Badgers also take care of the ball, turning it over at the third lowest rate in the country, meaning it won’t be easy for the Nittany Lions to find easy transition buckets and extra possessions. They’ll have to have a strong showing on the glass to pull off the win.

What to Watch For

In-Game Coaching - Pat Chambers is suspended for the game this evening, meaning Keith Urgo will take over head coach duties. He’ll be joined by assistant coach Jim Ferry who has head coaching experience. I’m not sure how much of an impact this change will have, but it will make the closing minutes of each half interesting to watch with regards to inbounds plays, clock management, and lineups.

Free Throws - Penn State has struggled at the free throw line this year, costing them some games. Against Wisconsin they’ll play a team that has been just as bad (shooting 67.4% compared to PSU’s 67.7%). With the expectation that this game comes down to the wire, it will be interesting to see if either team can step up and deliver an uncharacteristically strong night from the charity stripe.

Winning the Close Ones - The Nittany Lions are at a point where they’re in every game well into the second half. This year they’ve struggled to get over the hump and consistently come away with wins in those situations, whether it’s Maryland or Indiana or DePaul. With their head coach suspended, can the team rally and find a way to close out a key win?

Prediction

This game will be close. I think Mike Watkins carries a little extra confidence after his performance in the losing effort against Michigan. Penn State will use a late flurry of threes to take a lead in the closing minutes, but it slips away due to turnovers and FT misses. Wisconsin 65, Penn State 63