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Penn State vs. Rutgers Basketball Preview: Gotta Win One of These, Right?

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If the Lions drop this game, they’ll be without a doubt the worst team in the conference.

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

One of these days, Penn State is going to win a Big Ten game. Sure, the conference is super deep this season, but I’ve seen a lot of miserable Nittany Lion teams, and this one has too much talent to be at the bottom of the league. There’s a rally coming at some point, and it’s going to start with this home game against Rutgers. If it doesn’t, maybe just forget that I wrote all of this.

During their last time out, the Lions got a great bounce-back game from Lamar Stevens, whose struggles last week held Penn State back against Iowa. On the road at Minnesota, though, Stevens scored 27 points, and it was very encouraging to see him get his three-point shot back on track. However, no other Nittany Lion scored more than 10 points, and the Gophers prevailed down the stretch in a game that Penn State controlled for most of the way.

Scouting the opposition

Penn State will be favored back on its home court. Rutgers has two Big Ten wins, but both game at home. The Scarlet Knights have only one win away from the RAC this season — that game against Miami in late November — and they’ve lost road contests to Minnesota, Seton Hall, and lowly Fordham.

Someone who could turn Rutgers’s road fortunes around is Eugene Omoruyi, a 6’7” forward who has broken out and become his team’s best player this year. Omoruyi got hurt early in the Ohio State game on January 9 that Rutgers ended up winning. He sat out the next three games — all RU losses — and returned to score eight points in last Monday’s upset victory over Nebraska.

It’s a credit to the supporting cast that the Knights have won two games against NCAA Tournament hopefuls with just marginal assistance from Omoruyi. It’s helped that freshman guard Montez Mathis is developing nicely with double-digit scoring in five of his last six games, including 16 in the Ohio State win and a career-high 20 vs. Nebraska.

Another player who will be a major factor is Geo Baker. The sophomore point guard is an aggressive shooter who can score in isolation, but he ends up taking a lot of bad shots from inside the arc. Baker is only hitting on 35 percent of his two-point shots this season, so it’s a legitimate strategy to play loose on defense and hope he pulls up from outside of 15 feet.

What to watch for

Stevens from deep - After hitting all three of this three-point shots at Minnesota, Penn State fans are wondering if their best player is officially a threat from beyond the arc. If he’s able to shoot a decent clip from here on out, the dynamic scorer will be even more difficult to defend.

Point guard problems - Jamari Wheeler hasn’t hit more than one field goal in a game since Penn State beat Duquesne on December 19. Rasir Bolton is ice cold from deep and has more turnovers than assists. It’s time to either stick with a backcourt of Josh Reaves and Myles Dread or see what Myreon Jones can do in a bigger role.

Still waiting for Watkins - Mike Watkins has been receiving solid minutes since late December, and it looked like he was ready to be a dominant force after dropping 19 points on Michigan, but he hasn’t gotten many opportunities to score one-on-one since then. Watkins needs to do a better job demanding the ball in the post and drawing fouls against post defenders.

Prediction

Rutgers might be a better team that Penn State with a healthy Omoruyi and Mathis breaking out of his shell. Still, I think the Lions pull this one out at home with Stevens leading the way. Penn State 71, Rutgers 65