Penn State’s loss at Rutgers on Tuesday won’t be their last. The key will be to avoid a multiple game skid in conference play, and perhaps most importantly, to avoid dropping any games at home.
Wisconsin and Penn State currently sit at 2-2 in conference play after losing earlier in the week. It’s the beginning of a 3-game stretch against ranked opponents for the Badgers (two of those on the road), while the Lions have their toughest stretch of the season looming in the next two weeks (at Minnesota, vs. OSU, at Michigan).
Wisconsin had a four-game winning streak broken on Wednesday night at the Kohl Center against Illinois, but don’t let that 9-6 record fool you, the Badgers can hang with the best.
Scouting The Opposition
Wisconsin is a balanced team that wins when their defense is stifling opponents and their offense is scoring efficiently and not turning the ball over. In 15 games this season, opponents have only reached 70 points four times, and Indiana is the only team to score in the 80’s. On offense, the Badgers have found success by scoring in the lane and at the free throw line, while limiting turnovers. It will be a battle of opposing styles, as Penn State will be looking to steal the ball and run in transition, and Wisconsin will attempt to slow the game down and limit the total number of possessions for each team.
Transfer forward Micah Potter has been a spark for the Badgers since he became eligible to play in mid-December. He provides key depth behind Nate Ruevers and Aleem Ford as an adept scorer and rebounder with Big Ten experience.
Nate Ruevers leads the team in scoring, averaging 14.3 points per game, along with 5.6 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks. He’s most successful scoring inside and at the free throw line, but isn’t going to shy away from three-point attempts with a 30% success rate from beyond the arc, thus far.
Guards Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice each have the potential to take over on offense for stretches. King is coming off a 21 point performance in the loss to Illinois, and it was Trice’s 21 points that helped propel Wisconsin to a win at Tennessee earlier this year. King will look to drive the ball and score inside, while Trice is a three-point threat, shooting at a 34% clip, thus far.
The Badgers spread the ball around with shooters at every position on the court. They may look to stretch the court to mitigate Mike Watkins’ effectiveness as a shot blocker and take advantage of Reuvers’ and Ford’s perimeter offense. Off the bench, Brevin Pritzl and Brad Davison are experienced three-point shooting threats that can turn the tide in a game likely to come down to the final possessions.
What to Watch For
Balanced scoring - Will Penn State’s offense fare better against the Badgers than they did against the Scarlet Knights? On Tuesday few of the previously reliable supporting players contributed. After a bench points explosion against Iowa, the bench provided only 11 points against Rutgers. Outside of Mike Watkins in the first half, and Lamar Stevens and Myreon Jones in the second half, there weren’t any answers for Penn State’s offense. They’ll be tested again versus Wisconsin, and it could be a race to 70 points to determine the winner.
Foul Trouble - The last two games have seen Penn State mired in foul trouble. They have the depth to weather the storm as we saw against Iowa, but it puts them into difficult situations and limits their ability to play Pat Chambers’ style of defense. The Nittany Lions need to find a way to stay out of foul trouble in conference play if they want to be legitimate contenders.
Penn State’s shooters get back on track, and the home crowd tilts the game in their favor once again. Wisconsin will grind this one out, but Wheeler and Watkins are able to spark enough transition breaks through steals and blocked shots to get the Nittany Lions out and running for a few easy buckets. Pat Chambers will finally get the huge Badger off his back, as PSU earns its first win over Wisconsin in the Chambers era. Penn State 73, Wisconsin 68