Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Game 26: Penn State @ Northwestern Wildcats

The Matchup: Penn State (8-16) @ Northwestern (17-8)

Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)

TV: Big Ten Network (7:30 PM Wednesday February 17th, 2010)

Radio: WGN 720AM

Fun Fact: A win would tie Northwestern’s school record for wins with 18.

About the Game
Perhaps a small positive to Northwestern’s loss at Iowa a week ago is NU fans won’t go into Welsh-Ryan Arena fearing a loss to Penn State will be NU’s first bad loss. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt many fans will go into Welsh-Ryan fearing a bad loss, but at least in won’t be the first.

Realistically, though, those fears are the result of years of conditioning as NU fans more than an objective look at the facts. Yes, Penn State might be the best 0-12 team in Big Ten history, but they are 0-12. On the other hand, Northwestern is now 6-7 in league play and shook off the loss at Iowa on Sunday with an overtime win over Minnesota.

Most of what makes Penn State good, or at least better than their record shows, is point guard Talor Battle. Battle might be less than 6-feet tall, but he plays the same type of game as the 6-7 Evan Turner. In fact, if Battle and Turner were the same size, I think Battle might even be a better prospect thanks to his superior shooting stroke (36.2% 3PT). As it stands, though, Turner will be in the NBA next year and Battle will be trying to put together the magic he had at Penn State when joined by talents such as Stanley Pringle and Jamelle Cornley. Right now Battle is the only Penn State player who averages double figures (19.5ppg). Battle also leads the team in rebounds (5.3rpg) and assists (3.8 apg). When Battle makes passes he mostly throws to forward David Jackson or fellow guard Chris Babb. Babb’s emergence as a shooter (33.8% 3PT) early in the Big Ten season gave PSU fans hope of a second guard to take some pressure off of Battle, but Babb has been inconsistent. In PSU’s near upsets (such as at Wisconsin) Babb has played well, but his overall play hasn’t matched Battle’s level.

The 6-7 David Jackson is the only player besides Battle to start every game for PSU. His average of 9.2 ppg is second on the team and his 4.7 rpg is third. He is an athletic forward and when teamed with sidekick 6-10 Andrew Jones (4.9rpg) he can make things happen on the offensive glass. Jackson is also a good shooter making 37% of his threes and nearly 78% of his free throws. Jones isn’t a good shooter, but his bigger problem is fouls. Jones is talented, but spends a lot of time on the Penn State bench with foul trouble and that can destroy momentum. When Jones is on the bench, PSU often turns to big man Andrew Ott. A transfer from Villanova, Ott also has size at 6-10 240 lbs, but he isn’t the athlete that Jones, Jackson, or 6-8 junior Jeff Brooks is on the inside.

Prediction: Northwestern successfully used the 1-3-1 on Minnesota in the second half Sunday, a sight which was great to see for NU fans. If NU can get Battle to give up the ball, putting 1-3-1 pressure on Babb and freshman Tim Frazier might be a recipe for NU success. However, Penn State has in the past played well against the 1-3-1, though, the many players who did so were more experienced. Honestly, I’m a little worried about some of the athletic matchups Penn State can force on NU, but I do like the fact NU has a multi-talented offense and PSU is mostly just Battle. To be honest, with the way NU has played matchup zone in the past, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Bill Carmody even employ a Box and 1 defense against Battle. Whatever the defense, I think NU stops Penn State enough to win, but I do expect the game to be close. Northwestern, 72 Penn State, 67

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