No. 24 Penn State vs. Indiana Preview: Lions Try to Keep Surge Going

By Eric Gibson on January 29, 2020 at 9:20 am
University of Indiana Basketball Team
© Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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Indiana Hoosiers
15-5 (5-4 Big Ten)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
8:30 p.m. ET – Wednesday, Jan. 29
Bryce Jordan Center
University Park, PA
Watch Info: BTN | GAMETRACKER
KenPom Rank: 38
Read: Penn State Ranked Again

After their first full week off since Christmas, Penn State returns to the hardwood tonight to take on Indiana. The Nittany Lions rebounded from a three-game losing streak with back-to-back wins over Ohio State and Michigan. But if they hope to make a run at the top of the Big Ten, these are the home games they can't afford to lose. 

The Hoosiers have played two home games since Penn State last played, splitting a pair of one-possession games with a win over Michigan State and loss to Maryland. The two results were an interesting case study of how massive luck is in close games. The Spartans' Xavier Tillman missed an easy putback that could've sent that game to overtime, while Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis missed a bunny with under 3 seconds left that would've defeated Maryland.

This is Archie Miller's third season in Bloomington and the pressure's on to make the NCAA tournament. Indiana's on pace to earn an at-large bid, but they'll need to show at least something on the road for the committee. Their only true road win thus far has been against Nebraska, and they've lost their other three Big Ten road games by an average of 15 points. 

Projected Starters
Penn State   indiana
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Jr. 1 Rob Phinisee - 6'1" - So.
Myreon Jones - 6'3" - Fr. 2 Aljami Durham - 6'4" - Jr.
Seth Lundy - 6'6" - Fr. 3 Justin Smith - 6'7" - Jr.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Sr. 4 Trayce Jackson-Davis - 6'9" - Fr.
John Harrar - 6'9" - Jr. 5 Joey Brunk - 6'11" - Jr.

scouting report

There is no shortage of size and talent for Indiana, as their roster has the second highest average star rating in the Big Ten per VerbalCommits. They've relied heavily on their frontcourt, which includes freshman phenom Trayce Jackson-Davis. The potential one-and-done is averaging 14.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest and is one of the frontrunners for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He will be a tough matchup defensively for Lamar Stevens. 

The Hoosiers' primary strength is owning the glass on both ends of the floor. They rank in the top-25 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage behind Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk and Justin Smith. All three starters average at least five rebounds per game. The pressure they put on their opponents' interior have also helped them camp at the foul line, as the Hoosiers have the third-best free throw rate nationally. 

Indiana is one of the few teams in the Big Ten that can match Penn State's depth. Eleven scholarship players have seen meaningful minutes so far this season, although that rotation has been pared back a little bit by Miller. But despite that depth, Indiana has had trouble holding second half leads this season. They blew a 16-point lead against Notre Dame (only won by 2), 10-point lead against Arkansas (lost by 7), and they relinquished a 7-point lead in less than two minutes against Maryland on Sunday. 

keys to the game

Two of Penn State's biggest weaknesses in recent weeks has been rebounding and fouling. Those two keys will undoubtedly be the biggest focus for Pat Chambers' team heading into this one. The Lions must finish defensive possessions with a rebound, because the Hoosiers are not great shooters. But if they get beat constantly on the boards and the fouls begin to mount, that will be a huge advantage for an Indiana team desperate for a road win. 

Fortunately Indiana is more susceptible to turning the ball over, which could help jumpstart Penn State's transition game. With how much attention the Lions have to pay to the defensive glass, it's not likely they'll have many opportunities to run off rebounds. Live-ball turnovers and deflections will be needed to get out in transition. But if Penn State can't get quick points, they'll need to shoot well in the halfcourt, particularly from the perimeter. If Myreon Jones can continue his hot shooting, that will bode well for the Nittany Lions. 

prediction

This is a difficult game to get a read on. Penn State will come in well-rested after the long break, but sometimes those long layoffs can cause some rust. Indiana may be a little more weary, but they've gone toe-to-toe with Michigan State and Maryland. They aren't lacking in confidence, and they'll be desperate for a road win. 

The Lions are 6-point home favorites, but if I was going to bet this one, I'd be inclined to take the Hoosiers. You don't ever expect the road team to get favorable calls in this league, but Indiana's size and athleticism could give Penn State big problems. If the Lions struggle on the glass, they'll need a bunch of threes to compensate. I'm still taking the Lions, but I'm expecting this to be a come-from-behind victory. Penn State 74 Indiana 70. 

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