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Penn State vs. Northwestern Preview/Open Thread: Can the Nittany Lions Continue to Climb the Conference Standings?

A tough matchup on the road awaits in Evanston

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State will look to win its third straight road game, and its fourth straight overall at Northwestern.

As we know, the Wildcats are an extremely talented team, having defeated the Nittany Lions 76-72 at the BJC a month ago. They handed conference leader Purdue one of its two losses, and took the Boilers to overtime at Mackey. It’s safe to say Penn State is experiencing a step up in competition compared to their last three games.

Scouting the Opposition

Northwestern is clearly extremely talented, having been projected as a nine-seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology. Boo Buie leads the Wildcats with 19 points per game and five assists. Brooks Barnhizer (14.5), Ryan Langborg (12), and Ty Berry (11.6) all average in double figures as well, with Barnhizer averaging nearly seven rebounds a contest. Three players, including Buie and Berry, also shoot 40% from three-point range.

What to Watch For

Ace, D’Marco, and Kanye Ghostbustin’

  • For Penn State to have a chance, they will need immense production offensively and swarming pressure defensively from their guards. Ace Baldwin is of course the most crucial, but with the return of Kanye Clary and the solid play of D’Marco Dunn, Ace is not alone. Their pressure on Boo Buie and ability to score on the other end will most certainly determine the result of the game.

Run-and-gun

  • Related to the previous key, Penn State’s success is predicated on forcing turnovers via the trap, and then pushing the tempo to create fast-break buckets. The Nittany Lions forced 18 turnovers in their win against Iowa, a team that only averaged 10 giveaways per game. Penn State did only manage three fast-break points, mostly due to their cold shooting (until the final minutes).

Triples, treys, and three-point shots

Yes, they’re all synonyms, but there are three of them...get it? Anyway, Penn State hit 52% of their three-point shots on Thursday night, including their last five from beyond the arc. If they can start and stay hot from deep, this game will be tight the whole way.

Capitalize on opportunities

In January, Penn State forced 18 turnovers, and actually out-rebounded Northwestern 30-25. That’s a ton of opportunities on the offensive end (while limiting the opposition’s offense) that the Nittany Lions failed to convert. Victory will elude them again if they are unable to exploit the Wildcats’ miscues.

Prediction

Back to my reverse-psychology Pessimist Lando prediction. The road success hits a minor speed bump in Welsh-Ryan.

Northwestern 82, Penn State 72