David vs. Goliath: Men’s Basketball Hosts No. 5 Wisconsin
At this point in the season, it feels like everything is just starting to pile on the Nittany Lions. From close losses in three of their last five games, to horrible calls, and a fine for Pat Chambers, the season, much like the weather, is pretty depressing. The team that finished 12-1 in non-conference play now finds itself in third to last place in the Big Ten with just five games to go, no longer a team that may sneak its way into the NCAA tournament, but maybe the NIT if it can keep from completely falling apart. And the worst part? The Nittany Lions now have to host the team widely recognized as the best in the Big Ten.
Coming off a horrible defeat to Maryland that seemed to suck the life out of the Bryce Jordan Center, the Nittany Lions have the daunting task of playing a team that already defeated them this year by 17 points — despite Penn State shooting over 50 percent from the field, and seeing D.J. Newbill score 29. For the Nittany Lions, the recent problem hasn’t been especially poor play, having only lost one game by more than six points in regulation in their last 10 games, but maintaining a lead and finishing games out. The team seems to be competitive up until the final few minutes, where a few bad bounces or crucial shots go the way of the opposing team.
The Enemy (Is Everywhere)
This may be the most literal the above heading will ever be. The scariest part about Wisconsin is that the roster is absolutely huge. Led by Big Ten and NCAA player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky, the Badgers are, on average, 6-foot-7, making them the third-biggest team in the nation according to KenPom.com. The result is a defense that allows just 55.9 points per game, good for eighth in the nation.
But their strong defense doesn’t lead to a weak offense, as the team shoots 48.4 percent, 18th in the nation, and boasts three of the Big Ten’s top 20 scorers, compared to Penn State’s one.
The key to this team though is undoubtedly Kaminsky. He averages 17.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, fourth and second in the Big Ten respectively. In their last meeting, Kaminsky absolutely dominated the Lions, going for 18 points and an astounding 14 rebounds, all while shooting over 50 percent from the floor.
How to Make Them Disappear Completely
Pray? Realistically, for Penn State to win, half of the reason will have to be a poor performance from the Badgers. This is one of those teams that makes you wonder how anyone can beat them when they’re playing their best game, and even when they’re not, they have the size to make sure that you sure as hell aren’t on your game. Taking out Kaminsky is obviously a huge part of getting to Wisconsin, but certainly not all of it.
On the other side of the ball, Penn State has to make sure that everyone is ready to play their best game of the year, since the Badgers will likely take no chances letting D.J. Newbill work his magic. Good shooting performances from Shep Garner and Brandon Taylor (if he’s healthy enough to play), as well as strong showings from Geno Thorpe and a combination of Jordan Dickerson, Donovan Jack, and Ross Travis will be crucial to keep this one close.
KenPom Game Prep
To me, this is the type of game where Penn State will play an above-average game, and still lose by somewhere in the range of 10 to 20. The trademark poor start will give Wisconsin a nice six or so point cushion, from which it won’t look back. The Nittany Lions will maybe come within five at about the 12-minute mark in the second half, only to immediately go back down to a double digit deficit within the next two minutes.
The only potential bright spot I see for Penn State is that, at this point, the squad is realistically only playing for pride. It’s the kind of game where Pat Chambers just might be able to get his team fired up and focused enough to the point where it plays like it has nothing to lose, comes out shooting, and somehow hangs with one of the country’s best teams. Is it likely? No. Do I think it will happen? Absolutely not. But if this team can stay within four or five coming down to the last five minutes or so, this may be an exciting night in the Bryce Jordan Center.
That being said: Wisconsin 75, Penn State 60.