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Penn State vs Alabama Preview: Lions Look To Keep Momentum

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The Nittany Lions are back in action, fresh off a top 10 win.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Soon enough, Penn State Basketball beating Maryland at home will simply be penciled in as a win. Until that time comes, the win will be looked at as the kind of “upset” that can define, and course correct, a team that did not look that good against arguably the best team in the country right now; the kind of win that serves as proof that last Saturday was indeed a blip in the radar, an outlier in an otherwise pretty good season to date.

Now comes an Alabama team that hasn’t really looked that good this season, already having four losses on the year, although three of them were to top 100 competition. Regardless, the Crimson Tide still has the players to be able to put a good game on the court, so the Nittany Lions need to be on alert and move on from Tuesday’s win and onto their next opponent.

Scouting the opposition

Alabama lost a good chunk of production from last season, namely Donta Hall, who had a tremendous game against the Nittany Lions in Tuscaloosa last season. They do return Herbert Jones and John Petty, who, along with Hall, did most of the damage to the Nittany Lions last season. Kira Lewis didn’t stuff the stat sheet against Penn State last season, but he’s having himself a nice outing this year, shooting 38.1% from three this season on 42 attempts (Petty is best on the team in that category at 44.4%), and has seen is usage rate shot up considerably, taking 94.1% of minutes played, up from 78.8% last season. A new addition to the team this season is Jaden Shackelford, who is averaging 11.8 points per game on 25.1 minutes. Shackelford is third on the team in minutes played, at 63.1%.

One of Alabama’s biggest weaknesses plays right into Penn State’s hands, as the Crimson Tide are 322nd in the nation in turnovers, with a rate of 23.4. On the other hand, they’re 239th in the country turning other teams over, which should bode well for a Nittany Lion team that has improved considerably in that department this season. The Lions are 64th in the country in turnover rate this season, a stat they finished 148th in the nation last season in. That’s quite the contrast from a year ago.

What to watch for

Fast start - Alabama has athletes. Avery Johnson did not struggle to recruit players into the program, as their average player is low 4-star. They’ve had some bumps in the road this season, but they are capable of playing with anyone, and Penn State should keep that in mind. Can the Lions put the Tide away early and cruise to victory?

Avoid the hangover - Not too dissimilar from the point above, avoid having a letdown game after hearing about how good you are all week. Respect the opponent and play like it’s the first (and last) game of the season.

Turnovers - Can the Nittany Lions take advantage of Alabama’s biggest weakness?

Prediction

Being a Penn State fan would dictate that one should be cautious with this game, as highs have so many times been followed by equal lows. But I do believe this team is different, and they’re going to show it on Saturday. Penn State 89, Alabama 65.