Look, Penn State’s basketball team has shown its resilience repeatedly this season. You might remember the Lions losing the Big Ten opener at home before rebounding to lead wire-to-wire against at Illinois. Or maybe you recall after a 20-point dispirited loss at Rutgers, Penn State throttling Michigan at the BJC. Hey, how about the four-game losing streak that seemed to end any thoughts of an NCAA tournament trip? Penn State came back to win three straight. But, Sunday night may have been the worst of all. Playing in a crucial game, your Lions let a 20-point second half lead slip away, leaving us wondering what we might see next. Well, tonight’s the night. Penn State is in Evanston to take on the Wildcats, who have proven to be one of the stories of the year in the conference.
Scouting the Opposition
Northwestern (20-9, 11-7) is in a battle for the second seed in the Big Ten tournament, currently tied with Maryland and Michigan in the standings. The highlight of the season thus far for the Wildcats has been a five-game winning streak in conference that saw them knock off then No. 1 Purdue and No. 14 Indiana in the same week.
Northwestern, who is bound for just its second ever NCAA tournament appearance, even climbed into the AP Top 25 for a moment. However, the Wildcats are coming off a pair of tough road losses.
In much the same way that Penn State just fell to Rutgers, Northwestern jumped out to an 18-point halftime lead at Illionis only to fall in the end. In that game, Boo Buie, brother of Penn State legend and current Northwestern assistant coach Talor Battle, scored a game-high 35 points. The Wildcats also faltered in the second half last weekend against Maryland, being outscored by 14 in the second half of a 75-59 loss.
Buie and Chase Audige are experienced guards who will demand attention from Penn State’s defense. Buie was bad in his last outing, netting just four points and struggling from the field in the loss at Maryland. For the year, he averages 17.2 points and 4.5 assists per game and has played at an all-conference level. Meanwhile, Audige averages 14.6 points per game and leads the team in three-point makes.
Keep an eye on Brooks Barnhizer - the rangy forward has seen a major uptick in minutes and production of late. While he averages just 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, he’s been in double figures the last few outings.
What to Watch For
Nittany Lion response - Copy and paste this from other games this year. Penn State let a golden opportunity slip away a few nights ago. They’ll have to dig deep in what is an underrated tough road environment.
Can the defense hold up - Northwestern has guards that will put pressure on Penn State in many different ways. Meanwhile, Chris Collins’s offense involves a lot of zoom action that will put the Lion’s defense in conflict. It’s tough stuff to guard, especially for a team that hasn’t been consistently locked in on the defensive end in recent games.
Both teams are desperate and coming off tough losses. I think Northwestern’s home court is enough of an advantage and I don’t see Buie playing poorly two straight games. I love how Penn State battles, but sometimes that just isn’t enough to overcome poor execution. Northwestern 71, Penn State 62