We Should Win This One: Penn State vs. Northwestern Hoops Preview
With four games remaining in Penn State’s suddenly disastrous 2014-15 Big Ten campaign, Saturday afternoon’s matchup in Evanston may be the most winnable.
The Wildcats share the basement of the Big Ten with the Nittany Lions — both teams have only three wins in conference play. But Northwestern has won its last two games, including a road win over Minnesota and an overtime victory against Iowa. Penn State has dropped three consecutive games after winning three of five.
D.J. Newbill, who now has eight 20-point performances in 14 conference games, comes off a 29-point outing against No. 5 Wisconsin, a contest that saw Penn State battle with the conference-leading Badgers, but, as has been the theme for all but two losses this season, fall by single digits. Newbill accounted for over 61 percent of Penn State’s points Wednesday night, the highest percent of points of any player on a major conference team this season. A Julian Moore three was the Nittany Lions’ only basket from a bench player.
The Enemy (Is Everywhere)
Northwestern is a perennially bad basketball team, and this year is no different. But two straight wins and a home court could provide the Wildcats with the boost to defeat the more talented, if not bruised, Nittany Lions.
Northwestern features no superior scorer, but 6-foot-3 guards Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps both score in double-digits each night. 270-pound Romanian seven-f00ter Alex Olah averages 11 points and nearly seven rebounds a night, and will pose a challenge for Penn State’s foul-prone bigs.
At 12-14, Northwestern has not beaten one quality team this year, save for mediocre conference foes Minnesota and Iowa. In its most recent triumph against the Golden Gophers, it hit an astonishing 15 three-pointers.
How to Make Them Disappear Completely
The recipe for success for Penn State victories this season has been an ability for Nittany Lions not named D.J. Newbill to put the ball in the basket. Shep Garner went 0-for-9 and didn’t score against Wisconsin. He, along with contributions from Brandon Taylor and Geno Thorpe, should be all Penn State needs to stump a defensively-limited Northwestern side.
Jordan Dickerson, who entered Penn State’s top-10 all-time blocks list Wednesday night, should be able to contain Olah. And if he gets in foul trouble, a constant for Penn State bigs, he’ll be backed up by an improving Julian Moore — who, after Wednesday, is now a 100 percent career three-point shooter — and Donovon Jack, who is visibly losing confidence by the day.
“He helps us and he’s that mother hen that’s protecting the rim,” said Chambers of Dickerson on Wednesday. “He’s in the paint cleaning up a lot of mess and he’s only going to continue to get better.”
Penn State should also be able to control the boards against a smaller Wildcat squad. Ross Travis became Penn State’s third all-time leading rebounder Wednesday, a feat Chambers called “amazing.”
KenPom Game Prep
All signs point to the fact that this is a game Penn State will win. But that’s been the case for much of this season, and the Nittany Lions have done anything but win basketball games.
Expect a tired and traveled Nittany Lions side to come out slow, and limp through the first half. Newbill will keep the Lions in the game, and, at peak Penn State basketball, the Lions will cough another winnable game away in the final possessions.
Penn State’s lost five Big Ten games by five points or less. It’s only had one victory in conference play in a single-digit game. The Lions haven’t won on the road in Big Ten play all season. It should end Saturday, but it likely won’t.
Northwestern 65, Penn State 60
Photo: Dave Cole/Onward State