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Hoops Preview: Penn State Looking For Upset Tourney Win Over Iowa

Penn State did it. The Nittany Lions advanced in the Big Ten tournament for the first time since 2011. It was only Nebraska, a Big Ten bottom-feeder led by a notorious chucker, but the team was resilient in holding off a late Huskers surge to move on with a 68-65 victory.

Another day in Chicago brings a different animal for Penn State to face, and this opponent comes with the sour memories of a recent overtime loss. Here’s our breakdown of Penn State’s second round matchup with Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes.

The Enemy (Is Everywhere)

The Hawkeyes are one of the best teams in the Big Ten, finishing with a 21-10 overall record and a strong 12-6 clip in the Big Ten, good for third place in the conference regular season. The Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions met once before this season, with Iowa pulling out an 81-77 win in a tightly-contested overtime affair. Iowa have pulled off some impressive wins, beating No. 12 North Carolina in early December, No. 20 Ohio State just before the new year, and No. 17 Maryland in February.

While Iowa is nowhere near as good as, say, Final Four contenders Wisconsin and Maryland, the Hawkeyes can play. They come in at 36th in the nation in RPI and 32nd in BPI, compared to Penn State ranking at 115 and 91 in the two indexes.

Forward Aaron White is the team’s star. He puts up great numbers, dropping 15.9 points per game along with 7.4 boards. White is efficient too, hitting 51.4 percent of attempts from the field, and he can shoot from long-range too. Against Penn State, White went 5-for-10 with 21 points — he hit 11 of 12 free throws — to go with 14 rebounds.

After White, the next threat on the team is Jarrod Uthoff, a junior forward who scores 12.2 points per game with 6.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He wasn’t great against the Lions, struggling to find the net, but Uthoff still managed a serviceable line of 11 points, eight boards, and three assists. Iowa has a slew of solid contributors like Peter Jok, Gabriel Olaseni, and Adam Woodbury who will see the court, but White and Uthoff are the major concerns.

How To Make Them Disappear Completely

Stop Aaron White. It isn’t easy, but it is that simple. When he scores at least 20 points, Iowa is 7-1 and undefeated in conference play. Excluding a game that White exited early, Iowa went 6-6 when he scored 15 or fewer points. When he’s on, they’re essentially unstoppable against an opponent of Penn State’s caliber, and he makes players around him better as defenses key on him. When White is cold, however, the Hawkeyes are a pedestrian basketball team that Penn State is capable of beating. Think of him as Iowa’s answer to D.J. Newbill in terms of importance.

You’ll see Iowa try and feed down low constantly, lobbing balls to big bodies below the hoop in an attempt to beat Penn State with size, not jump shots. If Chambers keeps a big lineup on the floor and the Nittany Lions can play physical and establish itself defensively in the paint, this will be a competitive game. As for the little men, Penn State’s best chance to win on the defensive end is turnovers that become points. Iowa likes to push the ball quickly in transition and throw Hail Marys to guys like White near the basket. Penn State needs to stay on its toes and get fingertips on those balls, converting some quick D.J. Newbill or Shep Garner threes on the other hand to make Iowa pay for sloppy play.

On offense, there will be legitimate opportunities for players not named D.J. Newbill to score. Penn State’s star went cold early on against Iowa and allowed Geno Thorpe and Garner to combine for 31 points in the game. Of course, Newbill came alive down the stretch and led the team with 19 points. Penn State was successful in that game, racking up 77 points, almost excusively coming from guards. There’s no reason to stray from that strategy today, as Penn State can’t beat Iowa in the paint. Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis, and Jordan Dickerson aren’t going to win the battle under the basket.

KenPom Game Prep

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In the past, I’ve been a bit of a homer in predicting Penn State sports outcomes. This time, I’ll be a bit more realistic. Iowa is the better team here without a doubt, and Penn State lost to the Hawkeyes on home hardwood. This game is at a neutral site. It really comes to down to how hot Newbill is, and unfortunately for Penn State, the opponent has the luxury of being rested for this matchup. It will be a close game, but I expect Iowa to pull away late and win by single digits.

Iowa 68, Penn State 62. Let’s hope I’m wrong and the Nittany Lions live to fight another day. Today’s game is set for a 2:25 p.m. tipoff on the Big Ten Network.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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