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No. 20 Penn State vs. Rutgers Preview

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The Nittany Lions look to keep the momentum rolling at the RAC.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Chambers and the Penn State Nittany Lions basketball team claimed another scalp over the weekend, surviving foul trouble and some dicey court conditions to pick up a narrow victory over fellow ranked team, Iowa.

Now Penn State turns its attention ahead to tonight’s game against Rutgers, a team that is surprisingly scrapy and has proven that it won’t be a pushover, particularly at home at the RAC.

Were it not for a calamitous second-half against Ole Miss, we may be looking at a Penn State team that’s ranked inside the top 10 and if the Nittany Lions can get through their next three games against Rutgers, Minnesota and Wisconsin unscathed, that could be the case heading into a showdown with Ohio State where payback will surely be on the mind.

But for now, we focus on the Scarlet Knights.

Scouting The Opposition

I, too, was surprised to see that we’re looking at a Rutgers team that is currently 11-3 and 2-1 in the Big 10. Granted, the level of competition has not been great, but the Scarlet Knights do have a win over Seton Hall on their resume and played Michigan State tough. In the 2019-20 season, anything can happen in college basketball.

The name of the game for Rutgers is balance and defense. Offensively, they’ve got no one averaging more than 12 points per game. Ron Harper Jr. (yet, the son of that Ron Harper) leads the way with 11.7 points per game and Geo Baker is close behind with 11.5 per game. But perhaps more importantly. the Scarlet Knights are only allowing 59.6 points per game on average. Baker will not be available tonight and is out indefinitely with a broken thumb.

Rutgers is also not a great shooting team. They’re averaging just 30.3 percent from deep as a team and 64.3 percent from the line. I wouldn’t be too shocked to see Pat Chambers employ some zone defense is foul trouble comes into play at all. Look for Rutgers to try to grind the game to a halt and win in the 50s.

What to Watch For

Transition offense - What’s the best way to beat a stingy defense? Don’t let that defense get set up. Penn State has been great this year at forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, it’ll have to be great again on Tuesday night. Rutgers is turning the ball over about 14 times per game. You’d like to see the Nittany Lions push that a little higher.

Depth - Izaiah Brockington and Curtis Jones have become one of the most dynamic duos in the Big Ten off the bench. John Harrar has given Penn State productive minutes, and Seth Lundy has flashed signs that he’s a future star. Look for Pat Chambers to go to his bench early and often Tuesday night and to try to wear down a Scarlet Knight team that can’t match the Nittany Lions depth.

3-point shooting - Plainly put, Rutgers is a bad shooting team. They shoot barely over 30 percent from deep and are averaging just over five made 3-pointers per content. They’ve survived by limiting opponents to just over seven 3-pointers made. Penn State has shown it’s unafraid to shoot it from deep, partcularly with Myreon Jones, Myles Dread and the aforementioned Curtin Jones. If the Nittany Lions can make 10 or so 3-pointers, this one could be a blowout.

Prediction

As I said earlier, anything can happen this year in college basketball. Plus, putting faith in Penn State basketball seems silly, especially on a road against an opponent that has been a thorn in its side. But the reality is that Penn State has a much better basketball team than Rutgers and if the players show up and execute, this shouldn’t be too much of a nail-biter. The Scarlet Knights compete hard and that should keep them in it, but the Nittany Lions’ talent should win out in the end if they match that intensity level.

Penn State 72, Rutgers 62