Penn State hosts Northwestern tonight at 8:00 ET on ESPNU in a game that will be each team’s best chance so far to get a Big Ten win. I expect Northwestern to be a bit more desperate because it actually has a number of seniors who are major contributors. Penn State is a young team that was more or less playing for the future ever since Tim Frazier got hurt in November.
That said, Pat Chambers is not going to lay down for anyone. In this week’s press conference, he stressed the need for Penn State to play with effort and focus for an entire game. “We have to play Penn State basketball for longer than 20 minutes,” said Chambers, “That’s the bottom line. It’s gotta be for 40.”
Unfortunately for the Lions, so far this season “Penn State basketball” has meant taking and missing way too many jump shots. In a conversation with GoPSUSports.com, D.J. Newbill said that the team has to stop settling for jumpers, but it’s very hard to take him seriously when PSU has all of 12 free throw attempts through two conference games.
No one on Penn State is particularly good at shooting jump shots, but Newbill is worse than his teammates, so he should stick to driving to the basket against Northwestern tonight while Brandon Taylor and Jermaine Marshall handle the shooting.
On defense, we know PSU will be diving all over the floor tonight trying to create turnovers, but it might need more than hustle against a Northwestern team that runs a Princeton-style offense. If the Lions are too aggressive, they could set themselves up to get burnt by backdoor passes for easy buckets. The Wildcats thrive on a lack of turnovers and great three-point shooting, so look for Penn State to employ some man-to-man defense to get pressure on the shooters.
Top scorer Reggie Hearn, point guard Dave Sobolewski, and freshman Tre Demps are all threats to score from beyond the arc for Northwestern. However, the Wildcats will also keep the Lions busy on the interior with senior Jared Swopshire and seven-foot freshman Alex Olah. Northwestern is not a terrific defensive team, so if PSU can be patient and limit open three-pointers, there’s a chance that Newbill and Marshall can score the points needed to win. That’s being optimistic, though.
I was surprised to see that Penn State is favored by two points in this game. I wouldn’t lay them. Penn State is a bit too undisciplined on defense and Northwestern has too many decent shooters to pick the Lions objectively. Subjectively, though, there’s always the chance that Penn State grabs a ton of its own misses and steals the game… Yeah! Let’s go State!