No. 16 Penn State vs. Rutgers Preview: Lions Need to Get Back on Track

By Craig Fritz on February 26, 2020 at 1:00 pm
Rutgers Scarlet Knights Basketball
© Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
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Rutgers Scarlet Knights
18-10 (9-8 Big Ten)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
7 p.m. EST – Wednesday, Feb. 26
Bryce Jordan Center
University Park, PA
Watch Info: BTN | GAMETRACKER
KenPom Rank: 32
Read: The Nittany Lions Need MJ Jones

Penn State (20-7, 10-6) will look to put consecutive poor-shooting performances behind it as it welcomes the struggling Rutgers Scarlet Knights (18-10, 9-8) to the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday night.

Following a home loss to Illinois that saw the Lions make a season-low four three-pointers, Penn State dipped to a new low from distance at Indiana on Sunday, making just two triples.

As the calendar throttles toward March and the madness that entails, Pat Chambers cannot afford more nights of cold shooting if he hopes to maintain his team's position for a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

The biggest story line for the Nittany Lions continues to be the health of shooting guard Myreon Jones. While the team has been able to tread water, and at time excel, without him, his contributions are becoming sorely missed, especially on offense. Another thing to watch is Lamar Stevens' assent to the top of the all-time scoring list at Penn State. He's now just 69 (nice) points away from passing Talor Battle.

Projected Starters
Penn State Rutgers
G Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Jr. G Geo Baker - 6'4" - Jr.
G Myles Dread - 6'4" - So. G Montez Mathis - 6'4" - So.
G Seth Lundy - 6'6" - Fr. F Ron Harper Jr. - 6'6" - So.
F Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Sr. F Akwasi Yeboah - 6'6" - Gr.
F John Harrar - 6'9" -  Jr. C Myles Johnson - 6'11" - RS So.

scouting report

Rutgers has had a tough time of it lately, as is prone to happen in the rugged Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights have lost five of seven, with one of the wins an overtime home victory against the lowly Northwestern Wildcats. 

That said, Rutgers plays the type of frustrating, physical defense that will make everything difficult for the Nittany Lions. Only Indiana (twice), Illinois, and Wisconsin have better contained Penn State's offense in conference play, and the Lions are just 1-4 in those games. While the Rutgers offense will never scare you, they are so proficient on defense that they'll be in the game until the end.

Geo Baker has resumed his starting role from Caleb McConnell over the last three games and has put up back-to-back 16-point efforts. 

keys to the game

  • Buck the Bricks. Yeah, yeah, I'm a broken record over here. Penn State needs a bounce-back shooting performance in this one. Rutgers will wear out the Nittany Lions down low on both ends of the floor, so Myles Dread, Seth Lundy, and hopefully MJ Jones will need to be hitting from deep. I'm saying at least six made threes are needed.
  • Lock down the Knights. Rutgers is not an explosive offensive team. If Penn State maintains their defensive abilities and makes the Knights grind out offensive possessions, it will be a long trip back to Piscataway.
  • Play to the home crowd. The Nittany Lions will have a fourth-straight big crowd gathered at the BJC on Wednesday. Rutgers is 1-7 on the road. It's time for another statement game in front of the Blue and White faithful.

prediction

Let's get one thing out of the way right off the top, Penn State should win this game. It is the more talented, deeper team. But confidence is a funny thing and the Nittany Lions have not had the best of play over the last week. Rutgers will give Penn State fits, so Jamari Wheeler and company will have to play under control and distribute the ball effectively. With MJ Jones' status still questionable, I'm leaning a W for the Lions. If he plays, it won't be as close. Penn State 67 - Rutgers 59.

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