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Rutgers at Penn State Basketball Preview: Lions Can’t Let This One Slip Away

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Penn State has already beaten Rutgers on the road, but the Knights are better than they looked on New Year’s Day.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent Summary

Who When Where TV KenPom Rank Record Vegas Line
Who When Where TV KenPom Rank Record Vegas Line
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 1:00 p.m., February 4 Bryce Jordan Center (University Park, PA) ESPNU 145 12-11, 1-9 Big Ten TBD

Although Penn State has lost four of its last five games, there are still enough potential wins on the schedule to convince fans that a postseason bid is possible. For that to become a reality, Pat Chambers must get his Lions to play like they did in their last two games against Indiana... only without the costly errors that have resulted in heartbreaking defeats.

The road to redemption begins on Saturday in the friendly confines of the Bryce Jordan Center against Rutgers, an opponent that Penn State defeated on New Year’s Day in Piscataway, 60-47.

Scouting the Opposition

The Scarlet Knights have a similar profile to our Nittany Lions in that they are a dreadful shooting team that gets after their opponents on defense. Rutgers may have the worst league record in the Big Ten, but it’s eighth in defensive deficiency thanks to its conference-best three-point defense. The Knight hold their opponents to 31-percent shooting from beyond the arc, and the Lions did almost exactly that when these two teams met a month ago.

One other thing that Rutgers does well is grab its own misses. The Knights did a great job at offensive rebounding against their weak non-conference schedule, and the story has not changed in Big Ten play. Against conference opponents, Rutgers’s offensive rebounding percentage is 37 percent, so you have to give Penn State credit for only allowing the Knights to grab 27 percent of their misses back in January.

What to Watch for

Penn State was surprisingly lively on offense in Bloomington, but defense is one thing that Rutgers does a lot better than Indiana. Just like the Lions did in the earlier matchup with Rutgers, they must rely on their ability to force turnovers and score in transition to gain the upper hand. If there are too many half-court possessions in this game, it could turn just as ugly as the Knights’ close loss to Wisconsin last weekend, when both teams entered overtime tied at 45-45.

Sophomore point guard Corey Sanders wasn’t much of a factor against Penn State in the first game, but he has been a much more efficient player lately and could cause the Lions problems if they don’t respect his explosiveness. Deshawn Freeman will be a pain with his ability to gobble up rebounds and draw fouls on Penn State’s big men, but it will be a surprise if Rutgers gets on a roll from beyond the arc. There just isn’t a reliable three-point shooter on this team now that Mike Williams has gone cold in conference play. Penn State doesn’t shoot well from deep either, but at least Payton Banks can occasionally give the other team something to think about.

The two biggest factors for Penn State on offense ought to be Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens. Carr has been fantastic in his last two games against the Hoosiers, but not so much in the three games in between. Meanwhile, Stevens was mired in a major scoring slump before he blew up for 26 points at Indiana. He even hit his first two three-pointers of the season. Is that a sign that the freshman is feeling more confident in his range, or just further evidence of a lousy Indiana defense? If Stevens can offer a repeat performance against Rutgers, the Lions ought to cruise to victory.

Prediction

Penn State’s offense won’t be nearly as fun to watch on Saturday at it was on Wednesday night, but on the bright side, we won’t see nearly as many defensive breakdowns. The key to the game will be Rutgers’s turnover-prone offense against Penn State’s transition scoring. Master thief Josh Reaves only had four points the last time out against Rutgers, but I expect he’ll hit double digits in this one.

Penn State 70, Rutgers 61