Legends Classic Preview: Penn State Vs Pittsburgh

By Eric Gibson on November 20, 2017 at 10:20 am
Feb 22, 2017; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Kevin Stallings reacts to a call in the first half against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

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Pittsburgh Panthers
Pittsburgh Panthers
1-2 (0-0 ACC)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
Approx. 9:30 p.m. ET – MONDAY, NOV. 20
BARCLAYS CENTER
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Viewing Info: TV (ESPN3) | Live Stream
Opponent KenPom Rank: 139 OVR, 133 AjOE, 151 AjDE
Vegas Line: Penn State -10.0

While Penn State's 4-0 start to the season is the program's best since 2010, the competition they've faced so far doesn't move the needle. The team took care of business at home, despite a few tweaked ankles and a broken nose, but the Legends Classic this week will be a step up in competition. The two games in Brooklyn will be the first litmus test for the Nittany Lions and their 12th-ranked defensive efficiency. 

Well, Tuesday's game surely will be. Monday night's semi-final against the Pitt Panthers could be considered another tune-up. In their second year under Kevin Stallings, the bottom has fallen out of the Panthers once-thriving program. This team resembles Rutgers more and more these days than the Jamie Dixon-era Panthers of the Big East. 

Projected Starters
Penn State   PItt
Tony Carr - 6'5 - So. 1 Jonathan Milligan - 6'2 - Sr.
Shep Garner - 6'2 - Sr. 2 Jared Wilson-Frame - 6'5 - Jr.
Nazeer Bostick - 6'4 - So. 3 Shamiel Stevenson - 6'6 - Fr.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8 - So. 4 Ryan Luther - 6'8 - Sr.
Mike Watkins - 6'9 - RS So. 5 Terrell Brown - 6'10 - Fr.

Pitt has played three games so far and each featured a different starting lineup. That's not a surprise with a second-year coach trying to integrate a brand new roster. Only Ryan Luther is a returning contributor with ACC experience (and just two career starts prior to this year). Everybody else either graduated or transferred from last season's 16-17 team that only won four ACC games. The rest of the rotation is now filled out with a ragtag bunch of true freshmen and junior college transfers. It's going to be a long season in Oakland, if you couldn't already tell by Pitt's opening losses to Navy and Montana. 

For Penn State, they're still dealing with ankle injuries to Tony Carr and Josh Reaves. Carr injured his last Wednesday against Montana, while Reaves' injury came during a shootaround Friday before the Columbia game. The status of both for tonight is yet to be announced, although Chambers was more confident on Friday about Carr being available than Reaves for this matchup. They'll definitely need both guys as healthy as possible for tomorrow's game against either Texas A&M or Oklahoma State, but they should get by Pitt with or without them tonight.

Scouting Report

These teams met last season in the Never Forget Classic with Pitt taking home an 81-73 victory. This will be the first of many revenge games this season for the Nittany Lions. Last season's contest wasn't as competitive as the final score indicated (the Panthers jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead), though Mike Watkins dominated the second half with 13 points and 13 rebounds to close the gap. Chambers will be looking for a similar effort from Watkins against a much weaker Pitt frontcourt this year.

The Panthers have been outrebounded in all three games so far, so Watkins should have little trouble dominating the glass. UC Santa Barbara was able to corral 19 offensive rebounds last week against these limited Panthers. Pitt has also struggled in the turnover department, giving the ball up on 20.5 percent of their possessions while only forcing turnovers on 18.2 percent of possessions on defense.

Luther has done an admirable job so far in his transformation from bench player to star player (15.0 points, 9.7 rebounds). He'll be the focal point of the Panthers offense, while junior college transfer Jared Wilson-Frame is a physical wing that can score from all three levels. Outside of those two, however, the Panthers are dealing with heavy inexperience and inconsistent production from a variety of freshmen. Interestingly enough, Lafayette grad-transfer Monty Boykins, who PSU briefly pursued in the spring, has yet to see meaningful minutes for Kevin Stallings. 

Keys to the Game

For Penn State, their foundation for winning continues to be forged on the defensive end. Pitt has too many moving parts this early in the season to be able to score competently against the Lions. Plenty of attention will be directed at Luther and Wilson-Frame as PSU tries to hold their opponent to under 1.0 point per possession for the fifth consecutive game. 

Penn State's offense has been a different tale so far. The shooting percentages continue to be dragged down by the Lions' knack for missing layups. A protective mask didn't faze Shep Garner's jumpshooting against Columbia, but they'll need his threes again this evening. If the Lions can come out strong in the first half, they could end the game by halftime, much like Pitt did last year. But if they come out with another slow start due to foul trouble or poor shooting, Pitt could gain confidence in this rivalry as the game wears on.  

Prediction

This is another 'must win' for a team trying to make the NCAA tournament with this schedule. The Lions can't afford to lose to one of the nation's worst high major teams. The double whammy would be blowing a potential chance to face a ranked Texas A&M team in the tournament final (the Aggies are 6-point favorites over Oklahoma State). Pitt in Stallings' second year just isn't in a position to compete with Penn State. The Lions' continuity and talent wins out over the rebuilding Panthers to give PSU their first win over Pitt since the Joe Crispin days. Penn State 79 Pitt 56

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