Penn State vs. Nebraska Preview: Will Home Team Hold Serve Again?

By Chad Markulics on February 19, 2019 at 12:10 pm
Jan 29, 2019; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Tim Miles reacts against the Wisconsin Badgers at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Wisconsin won 62-51.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
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Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska Cornhuskers
15-11 (5-10 Big Ten)
Roster / Schedule
7 p.m. EST - Tuesday, Feb. 18
Bryce Jordan Center
State College, PA
Watch Info: FS1/Fox Sports Go
KenPom Rank: 33
Vegas Line: PSU -3

On Tuesday night a coach on the hot seat will face a team with double digit conference losses in a must-win game. That statement is about Tim Miles, not Pat Chambers, as the Nebraska head coach is trying to steer his team out of a tailspin that saw the Huskers - once a top-20 team in KenPom and ranked in the AP poll - lose seven games in a row en route to the wrong side of the bubble. 

The loss of senior big man Issac Copeland in what turned out to be the middle of the losing streak didn't help matters much. Already thin in the frontcourt, Copeland's absence meant an increased role for seldom used senior Tanner Borchardt. Borchardt has proven himself somewhat, grabbing an astonishing 11 offensive rebounds in a loss to Illinois, but nobody has been capable of replacing Copeland's versatility.

Penn State is fresh off a hard fought loss at Purdue, which saw the Nittany Lions jump to an early lead and force 23 Boilermaker turnovers over the course of the game yet falter down the stretch with turnovers of their own. Lamar Stevens was responsible for eight of those, but was effective again from the floor with 7-14 shooting inside the arc. Mike Watkins played just 12 minutes, failing to stop Matt Haarms and fouling out once again in West Lafayette, the third time in three seasons he's dealt with foul issues at Mackey Arena. Copeland's absence should mean a more fruitful night for Watkins on Tuesday, whether he comes off the bench or not.

Projected Starters
Penn State   Nebraska
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Soph. 1 Glynn Watson - 6'0" - Sr.
Myles Dread - 6'4" - Fr. 2 Thomas Allen - 6'1" - Soph.
Josh Reaves - 6'4" - Sr. 3 James Palmer - 6'6" - Sr.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Jr. 4 Isaiah Roby - 6'8" - Jr.
John Harrar - 6'8" - Soph. 5 Tanner Borchardt - 6'8" - Sr.

Scouting Report

The Huskers still have James Palmer and Isaiah Roby, two upperclassmen with legitimate NBA potential. Palmer is third in the Big Ten behind Carsen Edwards and Stevens in scoring, averaging 18.8 points per game. He'll draw the Josh Reaves assignment again after being held to just 11 points on 3-12 shooting in the game in Lincoln.

Penn State lost that game 70-64, mainly due to their inability to handle Roby. The junior stretch big played a near perfect game with 22 points on 8-9 shooting (2-3 FT), 11 rebounds, and four blocks with zero turnovers in 38 minutes. Will Copeland's absence free up Penn State's defense to focus more on Roby this time around? That's the big key to this game, provided Penn State can make threes reasonably well. They did not do that in Lincoln, going just 7-24 from deep.

Prediction

Penn State is actually favored in this game, despite Nebraska winning their last two games against similar opposition in Minnesota and Northwestern. The Huskers seem to be adjusting to playing without Copeland, but the home team always seems to come out on top in this series. For that reason, I'll take Penn State 68, Nebraska 65.

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