NCAA Tournament hopes? Well, if there are any then tonight is a must win for Penn State’s basketball team.
The Lions dropped two on the road last week, the first an understandable defeat at the hands of the nation’s top team where they battled for a half. However, Sunday afternoon’s loss at Nebraska set off some panic in Nittany Nation - you may have noticed here.
So, Wednesday marks a critical game between two teams, Wisconsin and the Lions, who have slipped a step below the jumbled mess that is the “pack” in the Big Ten standings. Both teams are 5-7 in league play and desperate heading into Wednesday’s late night tip at the BJC.
Scouting The Opposition
Look, the Badgers are reeling. Since the calendar turned to 2023, Wisconsin is just 3-7. They’ve suffered two separate three-game losing streaks in Big Ten play.
Since they escaped with a home win on January 17 at Kohl Center against the Lions, they’re 1-4. The Badgers do, however, boast a road win - escaping Ohio State with a five-point win last Thursday.
The last time Penn State played Wisconsin, this blog, it was me, wrote a lot about the return of Tyler Wahl to the Badger lineup and how that figured to be a big factor. Wahl is back and is valuable. But, frankly, he hasn’t been great since coming back - aside from scoring 10 points in the win against the Lions.
In that first matchup, it was Steven Crowl who had 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead Wisconsin. Penn State’s interior struggles have been tracked all year, so seeing how the Lions adjust to the 7-footer who averages 12 points and seven rebounds will be key.
Meanwhile, watch the perimeter with Chucky Hepburn and emerging classic Wisconsin shooter guy Connor Essegian. Hepburn had 17, making three 3-pointers in the win at Ohio State, while the Hoosier State native Essegian made five 3-pointers in that win.
What To Watch For
A Little Help Please - Senior Seth Lundy was outstanding in the loss at Nebraska on Sunday. He’s actually been pretty outstanding in all of conference play. Meanwhile, Jalen Pickett is still popping up on All-American lists. So, you know that the Lions should have two guys who are ready to play on Wednesday. They’ll need a third and a fourth, at least. Old basketball wisdom says that role players are better at home - so who of Cam Wynter, Andrew Funk, Myles Dread, or others is ready to seize the moment.
Finishing Possessions - Pace of play always becomes an issue against the Badgers. The obvious thing to watch would be Penn State being able to push the score into the upper 60s or 70s. However, I’m giving up on that and watching this instead - can Penn State make winning plays at the end of possessions. On defense, this means not allowing second shots - Wisconsin had 10 offensive rebounds in the first matchups. On offense, it means making a key play late in shot clock situations - think about how many tough shots we’ve seen Pickett be forced to take in closing moments. Penn State will need those plays in their favor in a grind-it-out, gritty, not pretty type game.
I’m still thinking (hoping) the flaming bus can make its way down I-70 to the University of Dayton Arena for a First Four appearance. Hop on. There’s room.
Penn State 68, Wisconsin 60.