Penn State vs. No. 22 Wisconsin Preview: Nittany Lions Without Chambers in Vital Home Game

By Chad Markulics on January 6, 2019 at 12:30 pm
Jan 3, 2019; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Ethan Happ (22) controls the ball as Minnesota Gophers guard Gabe Kalscheur (22) defends at the Kohl Center.
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
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Wisconsin Badgers
No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers
10-4 (2-1 Big Ten)
Roster / Schedule
7:30 p.m. ET - Sunday, January 6
Bryce Jordan Center
University Park, PA
Watch Info: BTN/BTN2Go I Gametracker
KenPom Rank: 19
Vegas Line: Wisconsin -1.5

Losing by 13 at a top five team is nothing to be concerned over. And yet at 7-7 and 0-3 in the Big Ten with a daunting schedule ahead, the brink of collapse is staring Penn State in the face. Pat Chambers' decision to shove Myles Dread during a timeout against Michigan earned him a one-game suspension, leaving the Nittany Lions without their head coach in a vital home game that they'll need to win to keep any postseason hopes alive.

Every game at the BJC is a must-win at this point - PSU hasn't shown they have the backcourt experience to win on the road in the Big Ten. Thankfully for the Lions, their opponent is also licking some wounds after a dismal home loss to Minnesota - in which they scored a mere 14 points in the first half. That's fewer than what the Badgers scored in the famous 36-33 Big Ten Tournament game against PSU in 2011. Associate head coach Keith Urgo is taking the reins in Chambers' absence. He'll be managing another classic Penn State-Wisconsin rock fight tonight.

Projected Starters
Penn State   Wisconsin
Rasir Bolton - 6'2" - Fr. 1 D'Mitrik Trice - 6'0" - Soph.
Josh Reaves - 6'4" - Sr. 2 Brad Davison - 6'3" - Soph.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Jr. 3 Khalil Iverson - 6'5" - Sr.
Trent Buttrick - 6'8" - Soph. 4 Ethan Happ - 6'10" - Sr.
Mike Watkins - 6'9" - RS Jr. 5 Nate Reuvers - 6'11" - Soph.

Mike Watkins came off the bench on Thursday in Ann Arbor. If that was meant to light a spark in the big man, it worked. Watkins led Penn State with 19 points and 12 rebounds against the much larger Jon Teske. He should be relishing the chance to face Ethan Happ and Nate Reuvers again - Watkins had a career day against the Badgers frontcourt last December, scoring a career-high 22 points and blocking seven shots.

Scouting Report

It's been a bit of a strange season in Madison so far. After a lackluster 15-18 campaign in 2018, Greg Gard brought his entire roster back. The Badgers started 5-0 with wins over Xavier and Oklahoma, lost the Drying Paint Derby against Virginia with dignity, and won their December conference games against Iowa and Rutgers. But road losses to Marquette and Western Kentucky put a damper on the excitement surrounding Ethan Happ's final season. A rare home loss to Minnesota to open the regular Big Ten season is bringing back fears that last season was no aberration.

That's been no fault of Happ's, though. The multiple-time all-conference performer is averaging career-highs in points, rebounds and assists. His free throw shooting has never been a positive aspect of his game, but he's shooting a career-low 47.5% from the stripe in his senior year, down from 64.3% his freshman season. Hack-A-Happ has become a concern. 

His young supporting cast has been much improved. The Badgers are up to 30th nationally in offensive efficiency, much more typical of the program than last season's 83rd ranking. D'Mitrik Trice has taken the biggest step forward, becoming a deadeye spot-up shooter who rarely turns it over. Brad Davison remains the most annoying player in college basketball.

Keys to the game

Wisconsin is a good team to be sure, but they have their fatal flaws. Free throw and three-point shooting doomed them against Minnesota. Despite shooting 58% from inside the arc, the Badgers went just 5-22 from three and 7-17 from the line. At home. Sound familiar? If this is a rock fight as anticipated, Watkins and Lamar Stevens will need to be able to operate inside. Ditto for Happ and Reuvers if Wisconsin is going to have any success.

Prediction

Pain. Wisconsin 52, Penn State 47.

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