Penn State is rested following last week’s dominant win against Indiana at home where the Lions tied a school record for made 3-pointers and evened their league record at 3-3. Now, they travel to the Kohl Center - a place where they’ve infamously never won to play a reeling Wisconsin team.
The Nittany Lions are sitting squarely on the bubble, among Joe Lundardi’s last four in as of this morning, with six weeks or so before selection Sunday. A win in Madison would be monumental for Penn State, as well as finally shaking the Kohl Curse.
Scouting the Opposition
Wisconsin has not won in two weeks and much of that can be attributed to an injury to starting forward Tyler Wahl. The senior went down in a home game against Minnesota where the Badgers held on to win 63-60 despite only having Wahl for nine minutes. How important is Wahl to what the Badgers do? Well, in those nine pre-injury minutes, Wahl had already taken five shots, grabbed a couple rebounds, and blocked a shot. For the year, Wahl is averaging a team-best 13.2 points per game and adds 6.4 rebounds. Oh, is this the part where we mention that he’s expected back tonight?
Since that win against Minnesota, the Badgers (11-5, 3-3 B1G) have lost games at Illinois and Indiana, while they let a late lead slip away in a home loss to surging Michigan State. Chucky Hepburn and Steven Crowl are two other starters averaging in double figures. Meanwhile, Hepburn and sixth man Connor Essegian are both shooting better than 45 percent from 3-point range and will demand a lot of attention.
Looking for a Penn State connection? Sharif Chambliss is an assistant coach for the Badgers and you might remember him from the 2001-02 season where he led the Big Ten in 3-point shooting. Ultimately, he transferred to Wisconsin for his senior season and has returned to his alma mater as an assistant.
What to Watch For
The return of Wahl. He was the focal point of “scouting the opposition” for a reason. Wisconsin was atop the Big Ten standings prior to his injury. How effective will he be in his return? He’s the kind of player who can really hurt Penn State with his size and versatility. Wisconsin has been good, borderline great with him in the lineup - but they were downright dreadful on Saturday afternoon at Indiana without him.
Rested or rusty? Penn State got the mini bye with no weekend game following last Wednesday’s annihilation of Indiana. In that game, everything went right for the Lions and the combination of Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk helped bombard a Hoosier defense that mostly seemed focused on slowing Jalen Pickett’s scoring. Can the Lions find their rhythm quickly in a road environment that hasn’t been kind to Penn State?
Pace. Penn State wants this game in the upper 70s, while Wisconsin has had most of its success this year (and dating back for about 25 years) by playing at a pace that’s a bit, a lot bit, slower. Penn State needs to press the issue a bit and find some transition 3-pointers against a team that typically takes those away.
I don’t necessarily expect a Willis Reed-esque return for Wahl and the Badgers tonight. However, I do think that a desperate team playing at home - especially a desparate team that has played very good basketball this year - can get this job done for the Badgers. The curse continues in another frustrating loss in Madison. Wisconsin 66, Penn State 60.