As a kid, an old saying taught me that every storm will run out of rain. So, eventually, the misery has to end, right? Well, when it comes to Penn State basketball, you can never be certain.
Losers of eight in a row, and 12 of 15, Pat Chambers and the Nittany Lions find themselves owning an 0-10 record in Big Ten play. Their overall record of 7-14 is not much better. Now, they are preparing to travel to Evanston for a match up with the 12-9 Northwestern Wildcats.
Scouting the opposition
They have not struggled to the lengths that the Nittany Lions have, but Northwestern is far from a good team. The Wildcats have lost consecutive games and are just 3-7 in conference play.
Northwestern is a team that, to put it lightly, has struggled offensively this season. Their 68.5 points per game is tied with the Nittany Lions for 265th nationally and their 41.4% field goal percentage is 313th in the country. From behind the arc, Northwestern is not much better checking in 221st nationally with a 33.4% 3-point field goal percentage.
6-foot-7 senior forward Vic Law leads the way for the struggling Wildcat offense averaging 15.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. 6-foot-8 center Dererk Pardon (13.9 PPG) and guard Ryan Taylor (11.7 PPG) also average double digit points for the Wildcats.
Defense is a different story for the Wildcats. Northwestern is allowing just 64.6 points per game this season which ranks 30th nationality and 3rd in the Big Ten. The Wildcats are averaging 5.4 steals per game and their 4.5 blocks per game is in the top 50 nationally.
One area Penn State could have a big advantage over Northwestern is in the paint. Northwestern lacks a true big man which could create an opportunity for Mike Watkins on Monday night. However, as we’ll get into more below, Watkins has struggled this season.
What to watch for
How much fight do the Nittany Lions have? - It’s not unreasonable to expect Penn State to just start mailing this season in at some point. Coming off a NIT Championship, returning three starters, and inserting talented freshmen Myles Dread and Rasir Bolton expectations were reasonably high for Penn State this season. They have not even come close to meeting any sort of expectations, though. Does this team have any fight or care left? If they find themselves in a hole early on we may find out.
Paging Mike Watkins - After missing the first five games of the season the Nittany Lion big man has settled into his role as a starter and key contributor. However, he has struggled throughout much of the season. His 57% field goal percentage leads the team, but, outside of the Michigan game, he has not been good enough in one-on-one situations leading to him averaging just 8.5 points per game. Can the senior put it all together and finish his final season strong? We shall see.
Can anyone break the ice? - This season Penn State has been one of the worst shooting teams in the country. Penn State ranks 322nd nationally in field goal percentage (40.9%), 294th in three-point percentage (31.9%), and 253rd in free throw percentage (67.9%). If it’s involved shooting the basketball, Penn State has been bad at it this season. Can someone, anyone, break the ice and get hot?
Northwestern is not a good team, however, neither is Penn State. This is certainly a game Penn State is capable of winning if the Nittany Lions play a strong defensive game and shot at even an average rate. That said, it’s impossible to have any belief in this team right now and even more difficult to pick them to win. Northwestern 68, Penn State 63