After beating Purdue on the road, No. 13 Penn State (19-5, 9-4 Big Ten) heads back home to face last-place Northwestern in a game that should, on paper, be over fairly quickly. The Nittany Lions have been firing on nearly all cylinders, scoring 80 points without one of its highest scorers in the last two games.
The Wildcats, on the other hand, had been giving every team a scare until last Wednesday, when an Isaiah Livers-led Michigan team was too much to overcome at home. Nonetheless, Northwestern has found itself on the good side of a double-digit lead far too often to take their conference standing lightly. After all, it’s likely that they will figure out a way to keep such a lead sooner rather than later.
Scouting the opposition
Remember Talor Battle? His brother, Boo Buie, is playing fore the Wildcats right now, making circus shot after circus shot, just like his older brother did with the Nittany Lions. Sometimes Buie can become too confident for his own good, and take shots that would have been better off as passes. Part of that is Northwestern’s lack of other options, and part of it is the shooter’s mentality.
The other two key pieces of the puzzle for Northwestern are Miller Kopp and Pat Spencer; the former’s 40.2% shooting from three is tops on the team, and the latter’s 30.3 assist rate is 75th in the country. Pete Nance is not the machine Mike Watkins is, but he’s not to be underestimated inside.
The biggest issue with Northwestern as a team is that they have a lot of good pieces, but they don’t yet work together. They’re figuring out how to do just that, and you can see this manifested in all the double digit leads they’ve held against teams far better than them.
What to watch for
Three point shooting - Can the Nittany Lions keep up their red-hot shooting from outside? A key in getting this out of reach quickly will be how hot the Lions are to start the game.
Myreon Jones - Will we see Penn State’s second leading scorer in this game? There should be no need for him, but we don’t want him to get rusty either.
Crowd - Will Penn State have its second consecutive sellout of the season, after not having had one in a decade? We shall see.
It’s hard for me to feel even a little bit of pessimism in this game, even after the undeniable proof that Northwestern is perfectly capable of staying with even the best teams in the conference. Lions roll. Penn State 89, Northwestern 65.