Know Your Enemy: Penn State Hoops vs. Northwestern
Penn State (19-12, 9-9) heads into the Big Ten Tournament after losing its final three games of the season. Penn State earned the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten and will face No. 10 Northwestern (15-16, 6-12) in the second round. After falling off Joe Lunardi’s bubble for the NCAA Tournament, Penn State is now playing for a spot in the NIT. The status of Mike Watkins is still unknown for this game, but Coach Pat Chambers did say that surgery was not needed on his right knee.
Zeroing In On Northwestern
Northwestern had a very disappointing season after finishing 24-10 overall, 12-8 in Big Ten play, and earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament last season. Despite losing 12 games in the Big Ten, Northwestern was able to upset Michigan at home earlier this season. The Wildcats come into this game after playing four games in eight days and will most likely be forced to play without junior forward Vic Law, who hasn’t played since February 19 with a toe injury. Law was averaging 12.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game before his injury.
Scottie Lindsey leads the Wildcats this season, averaging 15.3 points while playing 32.0 minutes per game. Senior guard Bryant McIntosh is second on the team with 12.0 points, while leading the team with 5.1 assists per game. Big man Derek Pardon is averaging 11.2 points and 7.1 boards per game, and could see a lot more action down low if Watkins is absent from this contest.
The Nittany Lions can’t afford to fall behind early and play catch-up, especially in the late parts of the game. Northwestern is smart with the ball, ranking in the top half of the conference in turnovers with only 11.8 turnovers per game. The Wildcats also shoot their free throws very well, coming in at second in the Big Ten with a 75-percent clip from the charity stripe.
These two teams met twice already this season. In the first game, Penn State won 78-63. Lamar Stevens dropped a career high 30 points, and Mike Watkins added 18 points and 17 rebounds. The Nittany Lions never trailed in this game at home.
In the second matchup of the season, Penn State struggled and lost on the road 70-61. The team was forced to play without Josh Reaves while he was out on an academic suspension. Penn State led for much of the game, until going the final 11 minutes of the game without making a shot. Shep Garner led the team with 22 points, making five three-pointers.
There are two keys to this game for the Nittany Lions. First, Tony Carr must play better than he did in the previous two matchups against Northwestern. Carr has only scored a combined 20 points against Northwestern, although the First-Team All Big Ten guard is leading the conference with 19.9 points per game. The second key for a Penn State victory is better defense from the five spot on the floor. In Mike Watkins’ absence against Northwestern, the Cornhuskers scored 46 points in the paint. Julian Moore, John Harrar, and Satchel Pierce will need to focus on making opponents throw up tougher shots while driving in the lane.
Although Watkins’ status is still uncertain, the Nittany Lions should be able to handle the Wildcats. The absence of Vic Law hurts Northwestern offensively and should allow the Nittany Lion defenders to help more down low. If they can play better low post defense than they did against Nebraska, I believe they will win this game. Penn State will also need to clean up its play, limiting the turnovers and missed free throws.
This team will be playing knowing that if they win, a matchup against an Ohio State squad that they already beat twice this season will be next. Penn State-Northwestern tips off at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The game will be aired on the Big Ten Network.