Penn State vs. Indiana Preview: Nittany Lions Look to Hold Home Court in B1G Opener

By Chad Markulics on December 4, 2018 at 8:20 am
Nov 27, 2018; Durham, NC, USA; Indiana Hoosiers guard Romeo Langford (0) drives to the basket as Duke Blue Devils forward Cam Reddish (2) defends during the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Indiana Hoosiers
6-2 (1-0 Big Ten)
7:00 p.m. ET – Tuesday, Dec. 4
KenPom Rank: 26
Vegas Line: PSU -2.5

Saturday's loss at Maryland highlighted a lot of Penn State's strengths and weaknesses. The Nittany Lions' active defense forced the Terps to turn it over on a quarter of their possessions on their home floor, but shooting struggles prevented them from taking full advantage. Big picture, a seven point road loss against a top-25 opponent won't doom Penn State's season.

An 0-2 conference start, however, would start to sound some alarm bells. Tonight's home date with Indiana provides the opportunity to avoid such a start to Big Ten play and get another precious win against a quality opponent. The Hoosiers come in off the back of a 68-66 grind-it-out win against a decent Northwestern team, though they may have lost senior leader Juwan Morgan for tonight's game in the process. Per the Indianapolis Star, Morgan is questionable for this evening with a leg injury that left him barely able to walk off the court. With or without him, Penn State should have an easier time on the interior against a frontline that dwarfs Maryland's twin 6'10" monstars.

Projected Starters
Penn State   Indiana
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Soph. 1 Rob Phinisee - 6'1" - Fr.
Myles Dread - 6'4" - Fr. 2 Al Durham - 6'4" - Soph.
Josh Reaves - 6'5" - Sr. 3 Romeo Langford - 6'6" - Fr.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Jr. 4 Justin Smith - 6'7" - Soph.
John Harrar - 6'8" - Soph. 5 Juwan Morgan - 6'8" - Sr.

Should Morgan miss the game, Archie Miller's options to replace the small ball center include stretch man Evan Fitzner and De'Ron Davis, who is still working his way back from an Achilles injury and played just seven minutes against Northwestern.

Speaking of working back from injury, Pat Chambers advised at his Monday media availability that Mike Watkins was still finding his conditioning and body control after an extended layoff from game action. His zero point, zero rebound, four foul night in College Park backs that up.

Scouting Report

Morgan or no Morgan, this is Romeo Langford's team. A projected top-10 draft pick come June, the freshman sensation has the weight of the state of Indiana on his shoulders this season and so far, he's accepted that proposition with aplomb. His floater with 40 seconds left against Northwestern pushed Indiana over the hump, highlighting his shotmaking ability in the process. Josh Reaves has struggled with foul trouble this season and Langford is appropriately physical, getting to the line and average of 6.75 times per contest this season. Like Reaves said, it'll need to be a team effort against one of the Big Ten's top freshmen.

The Indiana offense has made great strides in Miller's second season at the helm. Langford certainly helps matters, but Morgan's versatility and the addition of true point guard Rob Phinisee have made a huge difference. The Hoosiers rank seventh in the nation in effective field goal percentage (58.7 percent) and eighth in two-point percentage (60.1 percent). That's without the former McDonald's All-American center Davis playing much of a part. 

Keys to the game

How, then, do you stop Langford and co.? Option 1: Be Duke. Chambers should be questioned if he can't execute this gameplan. In case that somehow doesn't work out, there is option 2: create havoc on the defensive end. Arkansas is responsible for IU's other defeat this season - their winning formula included the forcing of 18 turnovers and the blocking of seven shots en route to a (somewhat fortunate) 73-72 victory. The Hoosiers are turnover prone with so much youth on the floor, turning the ball over on 21 percent of their possessions through eight games. As mentioned in the intro, Penn State has been very good at creating live ball turnovers (12.3 percent steal ratio as a team) - they'll need to continue to create points off turnovers as they did against Maryland.

When the Nittany Lions have the ball, they'll need that secondary playmaker to pair with Lamar Stevens that Chambers lamented his team was missing on Saturday. Rasir Bolton has shown signs of a resurrection after a rough time in Cancun, and Josh Reaves erupted for 17 first-half points against Maryland. Reaves went scoreless in the second 20 minutes though, and it doesn't help that Myles Dread seems to slump when Bolton plays well, and vice-versa. 


The comforts of home should be beneficial for Penn State's youngsters. The Virginia Tech upset should, in theory, you would think, get the students out for another meaningful December home game. In any case, this has the makings of a tight affair with or without Morgan, and I foresee some frustrating stretches for the Nittany Lions against an underrated Hoosier defense. But Penn State's defense should create just enough more to get a tight win. I like the home team to win but not cover: Penn State 65, Indiana 63.