Hoops Preview: Penn State Meets Nebraska In First Round Of Big Ten Tourney
The regular season has come to a close, spirits are high, and temperatures are reaching upwards of 50 degrees. That could only mean one thing: it’s March–as in tournament season. Penn State’s first taste of postseason action comes against Nebraska, whom the Nittany Lions defeated 56-43 back in early February. This is a very winnable game for a Penn State team riding some serious momentum, and could serve as the spark that carries the Lions on a magical run through the Big Ten Tournament. Hey, it might be just a pipe dream, but anything can happen in this crazy sport. Hell, an 11-21 team almost won the Southern Conference. D.J. Newbill and the rest of this gritty Penn State team have battled throughout the season, but nothing matters unless the team takes care of business against the Cornhuskers.
The Enemy (Is Everywhere)
The Cornhuskers, despite a dreadful 13-17 record, have some talent on their roster. Led by star juniors Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields –averaging 17.8 and 15.3 points per game respectively — Nebraska poses a threat offensively. Petteway can flat out do it all, and this team will ride him to the bloody end. He’s strong, poised, and knows how to score the rock.
While Petteway and Shields can seemingly score at will, the rest of the team struggles, putting up only 61.3 points per game–good for No.312 in the country. Nebraska struggles on the glass as well, which means the Lions need a big game from big man Jordan Dickerson if they are to take advantage of Nebraska’s shortcomings in the paint.
How To Make Them Disappear Completely
The obvious answer here is to shut down Petteway, Nebraska’s go-to guy. In their first meeting this season, Petteway managed to score 13 points, but shot 4-of-12 from the field. If the Nittany Lions can stifle Nebraska’s star again, the team should find some success.
The Nittany Lions will need to clean up on the boards and guard the perimeter. Andre Hollins nearly lit the gym on fire from deep in Penn State’s previous game against Minnesota, sparking a run that ultimately allowed the Golden Gophers back into the game. That can’t happen, especially on a stage such as the Big Ten Tournament. Penn State just needs to play solid defense and take advantage of Nebraska’s weak rebounding ability. On the same note, the Lions need to capitalize from beyond the arc, and not waste important possessions by heaving prayers from downtown like rapid fire — which has been the case in the past.
The thing about this Penn State team is that, more often than not, they shoot themselves in the foot, letting winnable games slip away. This is a winnable game, and one the Lions should be able to handle. But the Cornhuskers will take full advantage of any missteps, so the little things will be that much more important in this game.
KenPom Game Prep
You know what, I believe that this team has something great in store for them. The Lions haven’t been able to catch a break all season long (officiating, close losses, etc.), but I think this team is ready to take the next step. Led by a scorching hot Newbill, I believe that run starts with a first round victory.
Mind you, this game should be close throughout, but Penn State should be able to close away late–learning from past mistakes made throughout earlier portions of the year–culminating in a 70-58 victory behind another 30-point outburst by Newbill.
This team should have the “Survive and Advance” mentality going into this tournament, because it’s the only way they’ll make any noise. Nobody is expecting the Nittany Lions to do anything in this tournament–that is, except themselves. Pat Chambers knows what his team is capable of, and we’ve seen flashes of it throughout the year. These guys simply do not quit, and we saw that tenacity last game against Minnesota. It all begins with this game, and I feel as though Penn State will get the job done.
Hey, it is March after all.
Photo: Alex Bauer/OS