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Penn State vs. Northwestern Preview: Nittany Lions Look to Win Two Straight

Can Penn State make it two wins in a row in the Big Ten?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Penn State Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

After overcoming a 14-point first half deficit to outlast Michigan at the Palestra, Penn State returns to the BJC to build on their momentum against Northwestern.

This is not your typical Wildcat team that the Nittany Lions could reasonably pencil in two victories against every year. Northwestern comes to Happy Valley sixth in the conference and boasting a four-point win in early December against then No. 1 Purdue. Additionally, their most recent contest was a 14-point win at home against Michigan State, the same Spartans that routed the Blue and White by 30 points at the Breslin Center last week.

Scouting the Opposition

Northwestern has four players who average double figures, led by Boo Buie’s 18 points per game. Buie is also a team-best 87% from the free throw line and averages nearly five assists per game. Guard Brooks Barnhizer leads the squad with over six rebounds a game, which is surprising given that the Wildcats have seven-footer Matthew Nicholson. To put it simply, Northwestern is an extremely balanced team.

What to Watch For

  • Can Penn State get to the charity stripe and make the freebies?

In all three of Northwestern’s defeats, their opponents had more trips to the free throw line (Mississippi State had 10 more trips, Illinois had 12 more, and Chicago State only had two but made six more than Northwestern). “Make your free throws” is a cliché for a reason. Seeing as the Wildcats are led in rebounding by a 6’6’’ guard, perhaps Kanye Clary and Ace Baldwin can penetrate into the paint and either create opportunities for the post players, or draw contact and get to the line themselves.

  • Call up the Ghostbusters

Get it, because his name is Boo?

Anyway...as previously mentioned, Northwestern has four players who average in double figures, led by Boo Buie. Buie was only held below 20 points in one of his team’s three losses, but he was kept under his average of 4.9 assists per game in two of those games. If Penn State can’t limit his offensive production, they must at least mitigate his ability to create for his teammates. Perhaps more full-court traps?

Prediction

Remember in my preview for MSU when I said it could get ugly? So could this one. Let’s hope Mike Rhoades and company can build on the momentum from the Palestra.

Northwestern 86, Penn State 72