What to expect: Penn State
Indiana will look to avoid an 0-3 start in Big Ten play when it hosts Penn State on Wednesday night at Assembly Hall. The Nittany Lions are 3-3 overall, 0-2 in conference play and are coming off of a 98-81 loss to Illinois on Dec. 23 at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Wednesday’s game is scheduled to tip at 8:30 p.m. ET on BTN with Kevin Kugler and Robbie Hummel on the call:
Indiana’s inability to close out games has left the Hoosiers in an 0-2 hole to begin conference play.
Against Northwestern, Indiana was able to dig out of a 15-point first half deficit and claim a four-point lead in the second half before the Wildcats pulled away in the game’s final minutes. On Saturday in Champaign, Indiana battled one of the league favorites for most of the afternoon before Ayo Dosunmu exploded for 18 points down the stretch to lift the Illini to a win.
The schedule, of course, is never going to relent in the Big Ten this season. Every team sans Michigan already has a loss in conference play and Michigan State is 0-3. Indiana, as Archie Miller put it on his radio show on Monday night, needs to find a way to “get back in the race.”
MEET THE NITTANY LIONS
Penn State had an unexpected coaching change a little more than a month before the season tipped off when Pat Chambers resigned following an investigation into his conduct.
53-year old Jim Ferry, who was previously a head coach at LIU Brooklyn for 10 seasons and Duquesne for five, is leading the Nittany Lions on an interim basis this season before a formal search for a replacement is conducted this spring. Penn State has a pair of solid wins over VCU (home) and Virginia Tech (road), a pair of narrow losses to Seton Hall (home) and Michigan (road). Most recently, Penn State led Illinois by 15 early in the first half before eventually getting blown out at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The graduation of Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins left Penn State with a major frontcourt void and the Nittany Lions have pivoted to a guard-heavy rotation that hoists a ton of 3-pointers.
Four Nittany Lions are averaging in double figures and four of the top five scorers are guards. Junior Izaiah Brockington is averaging a team-best 15.2 points on 51.4 percent shooting from the field. An excellent slasher, he’s shooting 52.7 percent on 2s (55 attempts) and 46.7 percent on 3s (15 attempts).
Junior Myreon Jones was one of the Big Ten’s best guards last season before an undisclosed illness hampered him late in the season and forced him to miss six of the team’s final nine games. The 6-foot-4 guard is coming off his best offensive game this season as he scored 21 points last Wednesday against Illinois. Jones shot 40.3 percent on 3s last season, but is just 11-of-34 through six games.
Junior Sam Sessoms, who transferred from Binghamton, gives Ferry offensive firepower off the bench. His 11.8 points per game are fourth on the team and he’s second on the team in 3-point shooting percentage at 43.8. Senior guard Jamari Wheeler rarely looks to score, but is the team’s starting point guard and has a ton of Big Ten experience. Wheeler is 15th in the conference in assist rate and is averaging 4.7 assists.
Sophomore Seth Lundy shot 40 percent on 3s in Big Ten play last season, but is off to a 1-of-8 start from distance in league play through two games. With the graduation of Stevens, Lundy’s role has grown significantly and he’s playing most of the minutes at the four. 6-foot-4 junior Myles Dread comes off the bench and averages 8.7 points. He’s another Nittany Lion who can shoot it from distance with 146 career makes (34.3 percent).
The minutes at the five are currently a platoon situation with seniors John Harrar and Trent Buttrick and freshman Abdou Tsimbila. Harrar has a lot of Big Ten experience, but limited upside. Buttrick is a decent rebounder (4.7 per game), but not an offensive threat. Tsimbila, a native of the Central African Republic, has defensive potential as a shot blocker with four blocks over the last four games in a total of just 19 minutes.
KEYS TO THE GAME
• Limit Penn State’s 3-point attack: The pack-line defense is susceptible to teams that can space out and shoot 3s and Penn State is certainly capable of doing just that. The Nittany Lions are generating 38.1 percent of their points from 3s, which is the 35th highest rate in the country according to KenPom. It’s still early in the season, but no Big Ten team is generating more of its offense on 3s so far.
• Trayce, Trayce and more Trayce: Penn State had no answer for Michigan freshman Hunter Dickinson (20 points) in its Big Ten opener and couldn’t contain Kofi Cockburn (23 points) last week in State College. Jackson-Davis struggled to finish against Cockburn over the weekend, but shouldn’t have those issues against this Penn State frontcourt.
• Limit turnovers: The Nittany Lions are 0-2 in league play, but rank 2nd in defensive turnover percentage at 18.7. Penn State is going to commit a lot of fouls, but is also very capable of turning steals into easy baskets on the other end of the floor. Indiana was very good at Illinois with just eight turnovers, but will face a lot more pressure against a Penn State team that won’t hesitate to take chances and gamble for steals.
WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO
Indiana already dug itself a hole in league play with the home loss to Northwestern and this is a crucial week for the Hoosiers with home games against Penn State and Maryland. After failing to finish against the Wildcats and Illini last week, Archie Miller didn’t mince his words earlier this week on his radio show when discussing the importance of this week for his team.
“We have to be really locked in,” Miller said. “We have to play super hard. We’re going to have to get some guys playing at a higher level with some desperation.”
The KenPom projection is Indiana by five, Sagarin likes the Hoosiers by 3.5 and the Vegas line, which opened with IU as a 7-point favorite, sits at IU by 5.5 as of Wednesday morning.
Filed to: Penn State Nittany Lions