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Penn State at Georgetown Preview: The First Big Test

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The Nittany Lions hit the road for the first time this season and are likely to face their first real challenge.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Tournament-Georgetown vs Seton Hall Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State took care of business last week, cruising to a 2-0 in a manner that is uncharacteristic of the program. For the first time under Pat Chambers, and the first time since the 1995-96 season, the Nittany Lions won each of their first two games by 20+ points. I hope you enjoyed watching a couple stress-free basketball games featuring your favorite college team, because we should be in for a closely-contested game tonight in D.C.

Through two games Penn State has played excellent team defense. Remarkable given the loss of Josh Reaves to graduation. As expected, Jamari Wheeler has continued to harass opposing guards with his relentless quickness and hustle. Currently Penn State is in the lead in the Big Ten in steals with 19, with Jamari Wheeler leading all Big Ten players with 7 steals. Playing on the road against a team with a strong back-court, the Nittany Lions defense will be key to disrupt the flow and create scoring opportunities in transition. These Lions do best when they can play fast.

Scouting the opposition

Georgetown is hoping that Patrick Ewing can return the team to a prominent role in the college basketball world. Entering his third season as head coach Ewing has the program trending in the right direction, as the Hoyas appear to be in the mix for an NCAA tournament at-large bid just like the Nittany Lions.

Omer Yurtseven is a name that may sound familiar. Coming off the bench for NC State in their 2017-18 ACC-Big Ten Challenge match-up against Penn State, Yurtseven scored 19 points while shooting 3-3 from three-point range. Now at Georgetown, Yurtseven leads the team in points and rebounds per game with 18.5 and 13.5 respectively.

Against Mount St. Mary’s he tallied 12 points in the first ten minutes of play. The senior forward is a difficult match-up, and it will be interesting to see who Chambers tasks with shutting him down. With Watkins and Harrar better-suited to defend the interior, it may be up to Buttrick, Stevens and Lundy to show-off their perimeter defense abilities against the big-man.

Outside of Yurtseven, Georgetown has a few question marks. James Akinjo and Mac McClung make up a promising young back-court, but that youth has led to bursts of turnovers and long scoring droughts. Against The Mount, Georgetown trailed by as many as 19 points in the second half before a Patrick Ewing timeout helped to get the team back on track. They battled back and were able to take the W, but even then it was not pretty. They made a total of 3 field goals in the final 9:17 of the game which still translated to a 13-1 run due to MSM’s inability to make shots and rebound the ball.

What to watch for

Free-Throw Shooting - The struggles from the charity stripe that have plagued the program for a couple of years now have carried into the 2019-20 season so far. I don’t know what the solution is, but the team needs to find a way to take advantage of free points. It hasn’t hurt them yet, but in close games it will.

Turnovers - The Hoyas turned the ball over 7 times in the opening 7 minutes against MSM, and the Nittany Lions are built to take advantage of a team that has issues taking care of the ball. If Penn State can turn them over consistently I like their chances of taking control of the game flow, and forcing Georgetown to play to their pace.

Supporting Cast - Penn State has the edge here, but we have yet to see the bench depth come into play against a quality P5 opponent and on the road no-less. Upperclassmen Curtis Jones and Izaiah Brockington shouldn’t be fazed by the competition or environment, so I think the depth will deliver for the third straight game. While freshman Seth Lundy won’t be asked to do too much in his first road appearance. Still, it will be fun to see how he reacts to a bigger stage playing on national television for the first time in his career.

Prediction

On a neutral court I don’t think Penn State has much trouble dispatching the Hoyas based on how the two teams have performed thus far. Even on the road, I think there’s a chance Penn State comes out and makes a strong statement if they’re able to control the game, limit Yurtseven’s production, and avoid Yurtseven taking Watkins out of the game (either drawing him to the perimeter or getting him in foul trouble). But the Hoyas have just as much to prove as the Nittany Lions. They’ll be looking to show the home crowd that their performance against MSM was a fluke, and that they’re legitimate contenders for a postseason appearance. This one stays close until the closing minutes, and Penn State is forced to make a few free throws to close it out. Penn State 81, Georgetown 72.