Indiana will attempt to get back to .500 in conference play on Sunday afternoon when it hosts Penn State at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Nittany Lions are ranked No. 9 in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll and are 20-6 overall.
Sunday’s game will tip at noon ET on FS1:
Indiana’s 68-56 win over Minnesota, its second road win of the season, was massive for the program’s NCAA tournament hopes.
The triumph over the Gophers sits in the quadrant one column on the tournament resume and it also gives the Hoosiers a clear path to finishing with at least a .500 record in conference play. At 7-8 in Big Ten games with three home games remaining, Indiana can secure that .500 mark and essentially punch its ticket to the tournament by winning out in Bloomington.
That, of course, will be easier said than done as Indiana must first deal with a team it lost to handily last month in Penn State. One of the surprise teams in the conference this season, the Nittany Lions are a lock for the NCAA tournament and have won eight of their last nine games. Of their last eight wins, four have come on the road (Michigan, Nebraska, Michigan State and Purdue).
THE FIRST MATCHUP
Indiana’s offensive performance in State College on Jan. 29 was its worst of the season.
The Hoosiers scored just .702 points per possession, its lowest output of the season and its second lowest mark to-date under Archie Miller. IU also turned the ball over on 26 percent of its possessions and shot just 2-of-11 on 3s (18.2 percent) and 17-of-46 on 2s (37 percent).
Considering Penn State entered that contest with the Big Ten’s 13th ranked defense in league play, it was an underwhelming performance and the second loss in what turned into a four-game losing streak for the Hoosiers.
One of the major storylines entering the rematch is the status of Penn State sophomore guard Myreon Jones. The 6-foot-3 guard only had five points in the first meeting between the two teams, but is Penn State’s second leading scorer. He’s missed the team’s last four games with an undisclosed illness and is considered day-to-day entering Sunday’s game.
Penn State won its first three games without Jones, but his absence seemed to catch up to the Nittany Lions in Tuesday’s 62-56 home loss to Illinois.
“I don’t want to use that as an excuse because Illinois played so well, and Brad (Underwood) did such a great job, but it (his absence) definitely is,” Pat Chambers said. “You can see it’s wearing on us a little bit.”
A second storyline to track is Indiana’s guard play. In the first meeting between the two teams, Indiana’s four guards – Rob Phinisee, Al Durham Jr., Devonte Green and Armaan Franklin – combined for just 10 points and committed seven turnovers in 92 minutes. That type of production won’t get it done against an upper echelon Big Ten team. Indiana needs its guards to knock down the occasional perimeter shot and take care of the ball if it hopes to earn win No. 18 of the season.
Turnovers and the free throw line are likely to loom large in Sunday’s rematch between Indiana and Penn State.
Penn State has the highest opponent free throw rate (FTA/FGA) in the league and ranks second in turning its opponents over. In the first matchup, Penn State dominated both of these facets of the game. It limited Indiana to just 10 free throw attempts and forced the Hoosiers into 18 turnovers.
Indiana’s free throw rate of just 17.5 percent in State College was the third lowest for a Penn State opponent this season and left Archie Miller perplexed in his postgame press conference.
“We’re the number one team in the league in getting to the foul line, third in America at free throw rate, we generate as many points from the free throw line in college basketball,” Miller said. “I have no idea why we’re not getting to the free throw line.”
WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO
The KenPom ratings favor Penn State by one with a 48 percent chance for an IU victory and the Sagarin ratings view the game as nearly even when adjusted for homecourt.
The scary part for Indiana entering Sunday is Penn State didn’t even play well offensively in the first matchup and won easily. All-Big Ten forward Lamar Stevens had 19 points, but needed 21 shots to get there and Penn State’s only other double figure scorer was Curtis Jones, who finished with 12. Jones has not scored in double figures since.
The return of Race Thompson should be a welcome change for Hoosiers in the rematch as the redshirt sophomore was not available in State College. Thompson (nine points, 10 rebounds) was terrific in Wednesday’s win in Minneapolis and is beginning to take minutes from Joey Brunk, who has struggled for the last month.
Wednesday’s win over Minnesota gave Indiana some breathing room in terms of its NCAA tournament hopes, but another quad one victory to cap off the week would move the Hoosiers one step closer to their first bid since 2016.
Photo credit: Penn State Athletics
Filed to: Penn State Nittany Lions