Even before Indiana gave Wisconsin all it could handle at the Kohl Center a week ago, the mini road trip at Northwestern and Penn State looked like a dangerous trap for the Badgers before opening February with Purdue and Michigan State. Yet Wisconsin aced the Northwestern test, leaving a sneaky Penn State team as the last hurdle before a season-defining five-game gauntlet.
The Nittany Lions already served notice that they will not be easy targets this year. Penn State (11-8, 4-4 Big Ten) took its play to a new level this month, serving up back-to-back upset thrillers in Happy Valley over Michigan State and Illinois before losing heartbreakers at Ohio State and at Purdue in succession. If Penn State had gotten an additional break or two to go its way in those games, it could have had wins over four of the top teams in the Big Ten -- all in a row. By the same token, the Nittany Lions are also a few plays away from being just 2-6 in conference play.
Wisconsin (15-4, 5-2) has crept back into the conference title hunt by taking care of business against the lower division teams. With last night's missteps by Michigan State and Illinois, Bucky needs a win Saturday afternoon to keep pace with Purdue for second place. The No. 15/17 Badgers saw everything go their way against the Wildcats last Sunday and need to guard against a letdown.
As we touched on yesterday, the Penn State resurgence has been due to the play of senior big men Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones. Brooks has made the leap this season, scoring a career-best and even better than that in Big Ten play. At a long 6'8" he is also a good shot blocker on par with Keaton Nankivil. The 6'10" Jones has played his best in the big PSU wins, but is not consistent.
Talor Battle is still the Talor Battle you remember with steel cajones and unlimited range. He leads the team with 20 ppg. With that said, Battle is only third on the team in 3P%. Actually Brooks is the only Nit shooting over 40% from deep. One of the big problems for Penn State's defense has been defending the 3-point line. The Nittany Lions allow opponents to shoot over 40% on treys and this deficiency appears to play right into UW's hands.
|Penn State||49.1||31.9||49.8||35.1||0.957||0.996||-0.039 (-4%)||Dumb|
Head coach Ed DeChellis has opted for one of the shortest rotations in Div. 1 this year, giving less than 20% of the minutes to bench players. Therefore, it should be no surprise that Penn State joins Wisconsin as one of the slower paced teams in college hoops. The Lions will not be flustered by the Badgers style of play as DeChellis tries for his first win against Bo Ryan (0-12).
Last season it took a superhuman transformation from Jordan Taylor to turn around a crummy home court effort by Wisconsin and preserve UW's 13th straight victory against PSU. The game signaled Taylor's arrival as a go-to player. Of course Jon Leuer was injured at the time, so this time the Badgers will be at full strength against the Lions for the first time since UW's dominant 63-46 win at Penn State last January.
All eyes will be on Jash Gasser to see how he follows up his triple-double. DeChellis will likely opt to throw some zone looks at the Badgers, so Gasser may need to hit another 3-pointer (or two) as he did the other day. His 3-pointer at Northwestern was his first in the last seven games, but Wisconsin cannot expect Taylor, Leuer and Nankivil to remain on target every time out.