Here We Go Again: Men’s Basketball vs. Indiana Preview
When we last left our heroes, the Nittany Lions were completing a truly infuriating loss to the Michigan Wolverines. That was disappointing, but it’s over. Time to move on.
Tonight at 7 p.m. in Assembly Hall, Penn State takes on an interesting opponent in the Indiana Hoosiers, an offensive powerhouse whose defense leaves them wanting a bit. Tom Crean’s boys will have home court advantage in Bloomington, as D.J. Newbill & Co. look to get back on track and grab that first conference win.
The Enemy (Is Everywhere)
Indiana puts up points. These boys are ranked 16th in adjusted offensive efficiency, 22nd in effective field goal percentage, 35th in three-point percentage, and at 45th in the nation, and rarely turn the ball over. Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon, Robert Johnson, Troy Williams and Hanner Mosquera-Perea make up a starting five that few match up well with.
For a team that struggled last season, an 88-86 loss to Eastern Washington is the only real blotch on their résumé. Losses to Louisville, Georgetown and MSU are all understandable, and wins over SMU, Butler and Ohio State are impressive. Freshmen Blackmon and Johnson, along with talented depth in the form of Nick Zeisloft, Collin Hartman, and Stanford Robinson, have helped to re-invigorate the Hoosiers and cool Tom Crean’s hot seat.
They are 38th in the nation in in average possession length, so they not only score points at an incredibly efficient rate, but they take their time in doing so. They also hit their free throws at a 72.1 percent clip, making sure to take advantage of the charity stripe just like past iterations of the Crean Machine.
Indiana’s issues lie on the other side of the ball, though. They’re 117th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, or 69 (nice) spots worse than Penn State’s much-maligned defense. Their 100.7 points allowed per 100 possessions is one-tenth of a point worse than the Division I average, so while they aren’t terrible as stoppers (and have played a few tough teams), they aren’t exactly Michigan State. Indiana is terrible at forcing turnovers and doesn’t block many shots with its small lineup, and opponents have been very unlucky against them from the free throw line (59.8 percent on the year!), but the Hoosiers also don’t foul much, ranking 20th in the nation in free throw attempts per field goal attempt. Indiana is a tough team that has struggled against strong defenses (and Eastern Washington). If only Penn State had one of those.
How to Make Them Disappear Completely
Outgun and play strong man defense. The loss of John Johnson severely hurts in that first detail, as he has been suspended from the team indefinitely. Flipp is a bit of a chucker, but is fearless and was fourth on the team in overall offensive rating, including a team-high 16 points against Michigan. Instead, Geno Thorpe will have to absorb some minutes and produce on the offensive side of the ball. His shot hasn’t been great this year, especially from the outside (24 percent), but Thorpe represents the best guard off the bench and the proverbial next man up. Unless Pat Chambers suddenly trusts Devin Foster or Kevin Montminy with getting real minutes, expect Geno time to be far more frequent. If he can attack the rim, move the ball, and play strong defense on Ferrell, Johnson, Blackmon, and/or Zeisloft, it will go a long way.
Odds are Donovon Jack gets the start here after a stronger performance against Michigan last week. Jordan Dickerson’s disappearance last week might see his minutes cut, and while his height could create mismatches in the paint, he hasn’t shown enough on the offensive end to think he can take advantage of it. The most important players will be the scorers: D.J. Newbill, Shep Garner and, gulp, Brandon Taylor. I laid into BTitty pretty hard last week, but the fact is if he isn’t hitting his shots, especially with Flipp’s absence, it’ll be hard to outgun anyone. He either has to pass the ball or start hitting. He’ll have size and strength on his side if he wants to work the post more, which may be desirable considering his pitiful outside game of late.
The backcourt duo of Garner and Newbill will need a serious offensive performance to keep up with Indiana, but hopefully a smarter one as well. Launching threes at will won’t win this game. Smart looks from efficient areas will. If they man up on Indiana, they can slow the attack a bit. You won’t stop them, and hell, you might barely contain them, but if Penn State can regain the offensive efficiency it showed against inferior defensive opponents, this could be a fun, high-scoring game.
KenPom Game Prep
As much as I’d love to say the Nittany Lions get their first conference win here, I just don’t see it on the road. D.J. Newbill, James Blackmon, and Yogi Ferrell are the three highest scorers, and Donovon Jack chips in a double-double, with a final score of 87-73 that leaves the Lions reeling.