Fresh off a third-place finish at the NIT Tip-Off in Brooklyn, Penn State has another challenging week ahead of them. Wake Forest comes to town this evening, looking for a Tier 1 road win to create some momentum for a struggling program with a coach, Danny Manning, whose seat is starting to get hot. The Nittany Lions can’t get caught looking ahead to their game in Columbus on Saturday against the Buckeyes.
The Demon Deacons saw a 3-game winning streak snapped on Sunday against the 12th-ranked Arizona Wildcats, falling 73-66 in the Wooden Legacy championship game. Wake held a 23-22 lead after 10-minutes of play before Arizona took control. The Wildcats maintained their lead throughout the second-half, but never built a substantial lead to close the door completely.
With that, there shouldn’t be any doubt in the players minds that Wake can compete against a ranked opponent, and being in the ACC they won’t be as out-matched against some of Penn State’s athletes as past opponents have. Plus the Nittany Lions are double-digit favorites in a nationally-televised game, so you know it will be a nail-biter.
Scouting the opposition
Danny Manning’s teams play hard and like to move the ball up the court, but have not been known for defense at all in his first five seasons at the helm. In the past few years the Deacs have relied a lot on the three-point shot, while struggling to score the ball in the paint. Olivier Sarr’s increased production inside when coming off the bench have given Wake Forest a more well-rounded attack in the past few games, but there’s not much interior scoring behind him.
Wake Forest is lacking in interior depth after losing two post players for the season. In their absence Sarr has stepped up. Manning’s decision to start Ody Oguama and bring Sarr off the bench has worked well so far, and could create some mismatches if Wake is able to play Sarr when Mike Watkins is gassed. There’s not much post-production behind Sarr however, so if Penn State can neutralize him, it will be up to the Demon Deacons shooters to carry the load.
The team’s clear strengths has been their perimeter shooting and their ability to draw fouls (and make the free throws). When the shots aren’t falling they’ve shown an ability to get to the free throw line and keep pace with the opposing team (take note PSU). In terms of shooting there are three guards to key-in on: Brandon Childress, Andrien White, and Torry Johnson. These three guys can light it up from outside, and all three are also threats to drive the ball inside and draw a foul.
What to watch for
Don’t get caught looking ahead - There are two huge games looming on the schedule for the Nittany Lions. Ohio State and Maryland are both in the Top 10, and even winning one would be huge boost to the resume and hunt for a conference championship. Wake Forest can keep up on offense if their shots fall, and Penn State will need a complete game to enter Saturday’s game on a winning streak.
Foul Trouble - Wake Forest doesn’t have much depth inside, and that could be tested if Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins continue to play at a high level. At the other end, Wake has done a great job getting to the free-throw line to weather their scoring droughts, and Penn State struggles when Stevens and Watkins have to sit due to foul trouble.
Atmosphere - I don’t expect the biggest turnout, especially with the late tip-off mid-week, but here’s hoping the team’s performance of late and AP Top 25 poll votes have created some buzz on campus and around the mid-state to increase attendance.
This game will feature two teams who gravitate towards the perimeter game on offense. The key differences are that Penn State has multiple players to go to for points inside, and the team also plays fierce defense. While Wake Forest is lacking in those two areas, their ability to get to the FT line and their success at the line could spell trouble in Penn State lets them hang around and is unable to cash in on their own free throw attempts. I predict a final score that’s closer than the game really was. Penn State 80, Wake Forest 72