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Penn State at No. 19 Wisconsin Preview: Lions Seek First Win At Kohl Center

The suddenly-improved Penn State team tries to avenge an early-season loss in a place where they’ve never won before.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Penn State Nittany Lions (12-16, 5-12 Big Ten) have successfully won the second game in each of their double-play opponents so far, except for one. Next up on the list is the No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers (19-9, 11-6) team that has never lost a home game to the Nittany Lions at the Kohl Center. And, for the most part, these games have not been close.

The last time Penn State made the trip to Madison, the Badgers handed the Lions one of the worst losses of that season, an 82-55 thrashing at the hands of Nigel Hayes and company. Ethan Happ, the lone starter still will the team from that game, had 14 points to go along with 8 rebounds.

While a whole different cast, the characters Penn State will face this time were sitting on the bench watching the thrashing take place. And earlier this season, they were the ones doing the thrashing.

Penn State looks like a completely different team today, one that could do the unthinkable. If the Nittany Lions play with the confidence and efficiency of the past month, the could come away with their first win at the Kohl center. That, in an of itself, would be accomplishment enough in a season filled with disappointment.

Scouting the Opposition

Last time out, Penn State fell right into Wisconsin’s trap. They let the Badgers set the tempo, allowing Wisconsin players to sit at the perimeter, wait until there are 3 seconds on the shot clock, and shoot three after three, most of which fell. When that wasn’t happening, Happ was sitting inside waiting for the ball and what he knew would be an easy layup. Happ had 22 points and 8 rebounds, the rest of the team shot 50% from three, and did not spend much time having to work for their shots. Contrast that with the 20% rate from three from the Nittany Lion side, plagued by hurried shots and lack of rhythm on offense, and you got your recipe for disaster.

Key number one for the Lions in this game is to not allow the Badgers to easily set their offense, as once their players are set, it becomes a matter of making the shot. Wisconsin rarely misses. If Penn State can take away the three ball, the pressure on Happ to carry the team on his back becomes that much greater.

What to Watch For

Shooting - Can the team maintain the high level of play from the past two weeks, including the above-average shooting that has propelled the run? Wisconsin basketball and Wisconsin football are one and the same, so Penn State won’t have many opportunities. They need to capitalize.

Pace - Will the Lions push in order to get Wisconsin out of rhythm? Last time around they let the Badgers dictate the tempo, which played right into the visitors’ hands. If they want to see success, they need to make Wisconsin uncomfortable from the start.

Hack-a-Happ - For as good of a player as he is, Happ is equally bad at shooting free throws. If this game is close down the stretch and the Nittany Lions need to catch up, they need to force the ball in Happ’s hands, and immediately foul him.


For as good of a story as it may be, it’s still too much to ask this team to go to a place Penn State has never won and come away with a victory. Wisconsin 51, Penn State 49.