Penn State is playing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament! Wow! Look at us! Who would thought? Literally, not me! But the day is here, and the Nittany Lions will have the opportunity to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in just a few short hours. In their way? The 2-seed Texas Longhorns. Let’s take a look at the matchup with ~numbers~ and see what we can take away from it.
Some somewhat brief thoughts...
- The Longhorns play at a pretty quick pace — the closes Big Ten comparisons are Iowa or Illinois — so it’ll be a *literal* change of pace for Penn State to get used to. Really, it’s one of the major questions of this matchup: can Penn State slow the game down and get back on defense following misses and turnovers? Because Texas is going to look to run at every opportunity they can. Fortunately, Penn State has been good in not only limiting those chances (12.5% TOV% is beautiful), but when opponents have gotten out and attempted a shot in transition, it hasn’t been very fruitful. The Nittany Lions hold their opponents to just a 46.5% effective field goal percentage, which is in the 97th percentile (see: very good) in the nation. That needs to keep up later tonight.
- Texas isn’t a bad three-point shooting team by any stretch, but it’s pivotal that the Nittany Lions keep an edge when it comes to three-point shooting. Penn State doesn’t need another 13/22 (59%!) performance, but hovering around that 40% area while Texas is closer to 30% is a must. Again: 3>2.
- The assist percentage is interesting because as beautiful as it is to watch a team with great ball movement, that type of offense can sometimes bite you in the rear end in the tournament. Don’t believe me? There were eight tournament teams from conferences with more than one bid that finished in the top 15 in assist percentage: Tennessee (scored 10 points in the final 12 minutes against Louisiana-Lafayette), Virginia (eliminated), Arizona (eliminated), Kansas State (won!), Xavier (nearly upset against Kennesaw State), UConn (won!), Utah State (eliminated), aaaaaaand Purdue (eliminated). It turns out that in a close game down the stretch, you aren’t necessarily going to run your normal offense. Teams tighten up and you see a lot more creating off the dribble, which in theory *should* help Penn State given that Jalen Pickett is a maestro in pick-and-roll (93rd percentile) and isolation (71st percentile) opportunities. Marcus Carr is certainly dynamic in his own right, but Texas is a little more reliant on the team creating a shot rather than one specific individual.
- Offensive rebounding will be an issue because it’s almost always an issue, but given Texas’ own struggles rebounding the ball, there’s hope that this one isn’t too one-sided.
- While the Longhorns hold an edge on their ability to get to the free throw line, Penn State does a fantastic job of not sending their opposition to the charity stripe. And the opposite of that is true: Penn State does not get to the line frequently, but Texas does get a bit foul happy. So, like always, you just hope the refs call a consistent game because if Texas is getting foul calls, Jalen Pickett should get himself some foul calls too.