No. 24 Penn State vs Nebraska Preview: Lions Hope to Keep Pace in Big Ten Race

By Eric Gibson on February 1, 2020 at 11:52 am
Cam Mack
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment
Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska Cornhuskers
7-14 (2-8 Big Ten)
Roster / Schedule
7:00 p.m. ET - Saturday, February 1
Pinnacle Bank Arena
Lincoln, Nebraska
Watch Info: BTN I Gametracker
KenPom Rank: 131
Vegas Line: Penn State -8

Penn State hits the road tonight for the first of back-to-back road games. Tonight's task is the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Pinnacle Bank Arena. While PBA has typically been a house of horrors for PSU, this year's Huskers are the Big Ten's worst-rated team in KenPom. If the Nittany Lions want to earn a top-four seed for the Big Ten tournament, these are the games you have to win. 

The new-look Cornhuskers are pretty terrible under new head coach, Fred Hoiberg, to put it mildly. They are coming in on a six-game losing streak. You will not recognize anyone on this Nebraska team. Their rotation is composed almost entirely of new contributors that Hoiberg recruited immediately after getting the job in March. Their 4.1% minutes continuity rating from KenPom ranks 352nd out of 353 D-I teams.

With such massive turnover, no reasonable expectations could be placed on this team to compete this season. No matter how good Hoiberg has been in the college ranks, he will need another year or two to build a formidable roster of Big Ten talent. He is facing a rebuilding job akin to the one Pat Chambers had when he took the reigns in State College nearly a decade ago. 

Projected Starters
Penn State   Nebraska
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Jr. 1 Cam Mack - 6'2" - So.
Myreon Jones - 6'3" - So. 2 Dachon Burke - 6'4" - RS Jr.
Seth Lundy - 6'6" - Fr. 3 Haanif Cheatham - 6'5" - Gr.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Sr. 4 Thorir Thorbjarnarson - 6'6" - So.
John Harrar - 6'9" - Jr. 5 Yvan Ouedraogo - 6'9" - Fr.

Scouting Report

While Rome can't be built in a day, Hoiberg has a solid foundational piece in point guard Cam Mack. The junior college transfer is by far the Huskers best player, averaging 13.6 points and 6.8 assists per game. His assist-to-turnover numbers are particularly impressive considering who he's running with. Mack's 42.8 assist rate in Big Ten play leads the league, yet he's only turning the ball over on 16.4% of his possessions. He'll be the focal point of the Nittany Lions' defense. PSU's guards have to do a good job cutting off his dribble penetration, but they also can't sag on him as he's made 9-of-12 threes in his last two games.

The rest of the Huskers' rotation is far less intimidating. Mack is flanked by a couple of transfer wings in Dachon Burke (Robert Morris) and Haanif Cheatham (Marquette), but neither have been particularly effective in the Big Ten. The only holdover from the Tim Miles' era is Icelandic sharpshooter, Thorir Thorbjarnarson. The low-usage specialist is shooting over 45% on threes, but he's also going to have to defend Lamar Stevens.

Keys to the game

For Penn State, it's all about their mindset to take care of business. If they bring their best effort, Nebraska does not have the talent to run with the Lions, especially on the interior. Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins and even John Harrar should have ample opportunities against the Huskers' very young big men. I have not watched much Nebraska this year, but it wouldn't surprise me if they throw some zone looks at the Nittany Lions.

If the Huskers pack it in, you'd love to see Penn State get back on track from behind the arc. While he's been in a slump for nearly two months now, Myles Dread hit two important threes against IU on Wednesday night. Hopefully that gives the sophomore some more confidence to regain his prior form when he could pour in 3-4 threes in a game. Myreon Jones is also looking to bounce back from his lowest output of the season with just five points against the Hoosiers. 

Prediction

This is the longest roadtrip for Penn State in the Big Ten, and they didn't look particularly sharp at home against Indiana. Chambers mentioned after the game Wednesday that Stevens had been battling a cold. If their leader is still under the weather and the Lions come sleepwalking into PBA tonight, they could certainly be upset. But I don't think that will happen.

Nebraska has beaten Purdue and Iowa in this building this year, but they've also lost to UC-Riverside, Southern Utah, and North Dakota. The Huskers like to play much faster than the rest of the Big Ten, but that plays into Penn State's strengths. This is just a bad matchup for Hoiberg's team, and I expect the Lions will get their first win in Pinnacle Bank Arena. Penn State 82 Nebraska 68

1 Comment
View 1 Comments