The Penn State men’s basketball team has won four straight contests and appears to have finally found confidence on offense in the absence of All-Big Ten guard Tim Frazier. Over the course of the winning streak — which includes home wins over Army, Delaware State, New Hampshire, and Duquesne — the Nittany Lions have averaged 78.5 points per game.
Penn State (8-4) will look to continue their success on offense as they enter Big Ten play tonight on the road against the Wisconsin Badgers at 8:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network. This is the fourth straight season Penn State has started conference play on the road.
Guards D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall have led the way for Penn State, serving as the team’s primary ball handlers and averaging a combined 30.4 points per game, good for second among Big Ten backcourts.
The guards have gotten a boost recently from the low post play of senior Sasa Borovnjak. The 6-foot-8 Serb has averaged 12.2 points per game over his last 5 contensts, shooting 67 percent in the process and playing with a renewed sense of confidence. Senior guard Nick Colella has also given Penn State a boost off the bench and has hit 11 of 20 three point attempts in the past four games. Colella had a career high 15 points against Duquesne.
Additionally, forwards Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor have shown versatility for the Lions and are both averaging over 7 points per game. Travis leads the team in rebounding, averaging 7.4 per game.
Like Tim Frazier for Penn State, the Badgers also suffered a key loss in the backcourt as junior Josh Gasser suffered a torn ACL in preseason practice. Bo Ryan’s squad adjusted well and registered a 9-4 non conference record. Versatile senior big man Jared Berggren leads Wisconsin in scoring (13.4 ppg) while knocking down 40.7 percent of his threes and grabbing 6.7 rebounds per game. Junior guard Ben Brust (11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and senior forward Ryan Evans (11.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg) have been consistent performers for the Badgers. Additionally look out for 6-foot-7 freshman Sam Dekker coming off the bench. Dekker has been lighting it up from long range, making 44.2 percent of his threes while averaging 9.8 points per game.
This game will be a very tough test for Penn State — a team that has played just one true road game, an embarrassing loss to La Salle in Philadelphia. The Nittany Lions struggled mightily on the road last year, often as a result of slow starts offensively. The Lions have a wider variety of scoring options than last year when the offense went primarily through Frazier, but have yet to face a defensive effort comparable to Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is dominant at home and under Bo Ryan, the Badgers have a 174-16 home record. Penn State has never won at the Kohl Center and I think that streak will continue. If the Nittany Lions stay out of foul trouble — especially in the second half — they can keep it close, but they will ultimately fall short.
Prediction: Wisconsin 66, Penn State 56
Marshall, Colella Named Captains
In preparation for the Wisconsin game, head coach Pat Chambers announced that senior Nick Colella and junior Jermaine Marshall will join sophomore D.J. Newbill as team captains.
“Naming captains is very important to my program and when Tim (Frazier) went down I felt like D.J. needed some help,” Chambers said in a press release. “I didn’t want to just jump right in and name them though. I wanted them to earn it and prove worthy of the ‘C’ on their chest. Over the last month Nick and Jermaine have shown great leadership and consistency on and off the floor and earned it.”
Colella is in his third season with the program after playing two years at the Penn State-Behrend campus. After joining the team as a walk-on in the 2010-11 season, Colella earned a scholarship during the spring semester of the 2011-12 season. The scholarship was renewed for his senior season. Colella is averaging 4.4 points per game in nearly 24 minutes per game.
Marshall, a redshirt junior, leads the team with 22 threes and 25 steals on the year and is second on the team in scoring (14.6 ppg) and assists (2.2 apg). Marshall ranks ninth in the Big Ten in scoring and fourth in assists. He has led the team in scoring in five games on the season and is the team’s leading active scorer with 581 career points.