Penn State vs. Rutgers Preview: Nittany Lions In Need of Win

By Matt Simco on January 25, 2019 at 6:33 pm
Jan 21, 2019; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights forward Shaq Carter (13) and guard Montez Mathis (23) defend against Nebraska Cornhuskers forward Tanner Borchardt (20) during the second half at Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC). The Rutgers Scarlet Knights defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers 76-69.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

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Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
9-9 (3-3 Big Ten)
Roster / Schedule
4:30 p.m. ET - Saturday, January 26
Bryce Jordan Center
State College, Pennsylvania
Watch Info: BTN/BTN2Go
KenPom Rank: 107
Vegas Line: PSU -7.5

If I told you Saturday’s home game against Rutgers was a must win, you would probably think that was a good thing for the Lions. A must win game means they must be in postseason contention, right? Wrong.  

So why is this game so big? Because if Penn State (7-12, 0-8) does not get the job done against fellow cellar dweller Rutgers, things will go from really bad to a complete and utter disaster in State College. The Nittany Lions would then be 0-9 in the Big Ten with a home date vs. Michigan, two games against Purdue, a trip to Columbus, Maryland, and more still left on the docket. With the grind of the Big Ten season, there are few opportunities for an "easy win." Not that this game will be a breeze - Rutgers did just take down a quality Nebraska team in New Jersey - but this is finally a game that Penn State should, in theory, win.  

The last time they were on the hardwood, the Nittany Lions dropped a hard-fought 65-64 road loss to the Golden Gophers at Williams Arena.  Lamar Stevens reverted back to his old self after a 4-18 shooting performance against the Hawkeyes, finishing with 27 points on 9-17 shooting. Stevens went 3-3 from deep, which is big for him as his outside shooting had been shaky of late. Unfortunately, Stevens didn't receive much help from his teammates offensively, including Myles Dread and Josh Reaves who both scored in double digits in the loss to Iowa. They finished with six and seven points at Minnesota, respectively.

That’s just the story of this 2018-2019 season. Pat Chambers described it best following the loss to Iowa, saying that it was like golf. Some days you're driving the ball well but you can’t putt. Other days you can putt, but you can’t hit your irons. It never seems like everything is clicking all at once for this Nittany Lions squad. I can’t think of a better comparison for this team. 

Projected Starters
Penn State   Rutgers
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Soph. 1 Geo Baker - 6'4" - Soph.
Myles Dread - 6'4" - Fr. 2 Montez Mathis - 6'5" - Fr.
Josh Reaves - 6'4" - Sr. 3 Ron Harper Jr. - 6'6" - Fr.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Jr. 4 Eugene Omoruyi- 6'7" - Jr.
Mike Watkins - 6'9" - RS Jr. 5 Shaquille Dorson - 7'0" - Sr.

Scouting Report

The Lions need to have a complete, all-around performance when they host the Scarlet Knights Saturday. Rutgers (9-9, 2-6) only has two Big Ten wins this season, but they were both impressive. Rutgers defeated the then-16th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes earlier this month and a very good Nebraska team their last time out.

The Scarlet Knights will be led by junior Eugene Omoruyi and sophomore Geo Baker. Omoruyi is a versatile forward who returned to the court Monday against the Cornhuskers after sitting for 12 days due to a dislocated left kneecap. Omoruyi is arguably Rutgers' most important player, and his presence and leadership was instrumental in their recent victory. Baker averages 13.1 points per game and is a sharp-shooting scorer that Penn State will have to keep in check. He tallied 16 points in Monday night's upset, including 3-4 from three.  

Four-star freshman guard Montez Mathis had a career-high 20 points on Monday and will look to continue that pace Saturday. Rutgers has good length, with two 6'4 guards, a 6'7" small forward, and a 7-foot center. This could be a challenge for the Nittany Lions, who are comparatively undersized in the backcourt and down low. The Scarlet Knights can rebound the basketball, and rely on extra possessions to stay in games. Their 36% offensive rebound rate against Nebraska was key to the victory. Rutgers is not a great offensive ball club, with even worse offensive statistics than Penn State. They average just 67.4 points per game on 40.8% shooting.  The Nittany Lions score 67.8 points a game and convert on 41.3% of their shot attempts. 

Prediction

Penn State should be able to lock down Rutgers defensively and score enough points to win this game. If Mike Watkins and co. can hold their own on the boards, I think it will result in a comfortable win for the Nittany Lions. Penn State 71, Rutgers 61.

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