Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Preview: After a thrilling overtime victory on Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis, the Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball team returns to action tonight at the Kohl Center vs. Penn State at 8p.m.
The Badgers are sitting on top of the Big Ten conference with Maryland, as both teams have started the conference slate at 5-1. Wisconsin is coming off their top victory of the season according to the RPI rankings, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers are currently ranked 16th.
Penn State enters tonight’s contest ranked 66th in the RPI but the Nittany Lions have already posted two top-50 RPI victories this season as they have defeated both the Gophers and the Michigan State Spartans. Penn State is 11-9 overall and 3-4 in conference play as they have dropped their past two games to Indiana and at Purdue.
The Nittany Lions have a quartet of scorers averaging double figures on the season. Junior guard Shep Garner leads the way with 12.3ppg, to go along with 1.4 steals per game. Garner finished with 10 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals last season in his lone meeting against the Badgers. A game in which Wisconsin escaped the Bryce Jordan Center with a 66-60 victory.
Penn State is getting a strong contribution from freshman forward Lamar Stevens; Stevens is second on the team with 5.6rpg to go along with 11.6ppg. Junior forward Payton Banks is averaging 11.7ppg and helps spread the floor by shooting 38.5% from behind the arc (52-135).
Freshman guard Tony Carr has also contributed to the ‘semi-resurgence’ in State College. The freshman is leading the Lions with 3.6apg and is fourth on the team with 11.4ppg. Carr already has a 24-point performance this season, coming in a 75-78 loss to Indiana on January 18th.
Penn State is led by head coach Pat Chambers; this is the sixth season for Chambers in State College. Coach Chambers has his Nittany Lions playing with a lot of energy on the defensive end, as Penn State ranks 28th in the nation allowing 94.5 points per 100 possessions (according to kenpom adjusted rankings).
The Wisconsin Badgers enter play tonight on a 3-game win streak and an overall record of 16-3. The Badgers are led by recent co-Big Ten Player of the Week Ethan Happ. Happ earned this honor after a 28 point, 12 rebound, 6 assist, and 5 block performance on the road against Minnesota on Saturday. The redshirt sophomore is third on the Badgers in scoring with 13.6ppg, and leads Wisconsin in rebounding (9.2rpg), steals (1.8spg), field goal percentage (.602) and blocks (1.1bpg). Happ scored 20 points and grabbed 11 boards in his lone meeting against Penn State in his career.
So what should Badgers fans look for tonight?
- 16-point Favorites: The Badgers enter tonight’s game as 16-point favorites, but don’t sleep on these Nittany Lions. Penn State’s defense can keep them in any game. If Wisconsin doesn’t execute on the offensive side of the floor, this game may be closer than it has to be, similar to the Badgers 68-64 victory over Michigan last week.
- Dominate the Paint: Forwards Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ scored 35 of the Badgers 66 points last season against Penn State. Expect the Badgers to run their offense through these two early and often tonight.
- Bench Play: Alex Illikainen had nine points against Penn State last season during his freshman campaign. I don’t expect the same from Illikainen tonight, but I do want to see more efficiency from the Badgers bench. I am guilty of always looking a year ahead, and as the Badgers lose four seniors this season, it is important for players like D’Mitrik Trice, Khalil Iverson, Charlie Thomas, Brevin Pritzl, Jordan Hill, and Illikainen to start developing now.
- More Experience: Penn State doesn’t have a single senior on their roster, while the Badgers have four, who have an 11-3 record in the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin needs to use their experience level combined with a home court advantage to take an early and commanding lead on the Nittany Lions.
Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 74 Penn State 61 (Thorson is 17-2 on the season)
Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Prediction: BADGERS 78 Penn State 66 (King is 12-3 on the season)