Penn State-Northwestern Preview: Lions Look to Start Winning Streak As Wildcats Visit Happy Valley

By Brad Peterson on January 23, 2021 at 5:08 pm
Jan 3, 2021; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Northwestern Wildcats forward Miller Kopp (10) shoots as Michigan Wolverines center Hunter Dickinson (1) defends during the second half at Crisler Center.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
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Northwestern Wildcats
6-7 (3-6 B1G)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
7:00 p.m. EST – Saturday, Jan. 23
BRYCE JORDAN CENTER
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA
Watch Info: BTN | GAMETRACKER
KenPom Rank: 72

Penn State (4-6, 1-5, #41 NET) finishes their gauntlet of four games in seven days when a struggling Northwestern (6-7, 3-6, # 71 NET) squad who have lost six straight comes to town Saturday. In their last game Thursday, the Lions were victorious for the first time in conference play, taking down Rutgers 75-67. Myreon Jones and Izaiah Brockington led the way for the Lions with 17 apiece. Seth Lundy added 16 points and had his first career double-double with 10 rebounds.

Northwestern’s season trajectory looks a lot like the aforementioned Rutgers. The Wildcats started the season 6-1 and were ranked 19th in the AP Poll after upsetting Michigan State 79-65 to open league play and added wins over Indiana and Ohio State. Since that victory over the Buckeyes though, the Wildcats have lost seven straight, all to ranked teams. Northwestern comes into Saturday’s game with the #1-rated strength of schedule according to Ken Pomeroy. For reference, Penn State checks in at #2.

Northwestern lost to Wisconsin their last time on the floor, 68-52, scoring only 18 points in the 2nd half on 6-22 2nd half shooting. The Wildcats were led by Chase Audige’s 16 points, with Miller Kopp the only other player in double figures with 10. Pete Nance led the way with 12 rebounds and Boo Buie had 5 assists.

Kopp, Audige, and Nance lead the scoring column for Northwestern averaging 13.2, 12.6, and 11.5 PPG respectively. Buie adds 9.9 PPG. Nobody on the Wildcats roster averages more than 30 minutes per game as Chris Collins has a deep bench with 9 players getting at least 15 minutes per game. The Wildcats outrebound opponents by 10 and share the ball well, with 19.5 assists per game.

Projected Starters
Penn State Illinois
G Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Sr. G Chase Audige - 6'4" - So.
G Myreon Jones - 6'3" - Jr. G Boo Buie - 6'2" - So.
G Izaiah Brockington - 6'4" - Jr. F Miller Kopp - 6'7" - Jr.
F Seth Lundy - 6'6" - So. F Robbie Beran - 6'9" - So.
F John Harrar - 6'9" -  Sr. F Pete Nance - 6'10" - Jr.

Scouting Report

The Wildcats are led by Junior marksman, 6’7” Miller Kopp. Kopp paces the team at 13.2 PPG and 28 minutes per game. Kopp shoots a robust 45% from behind the arc and 87% from the FT line.  He was instrumental in Northwestern’s 80-69 upset win over the Lions last March in Evanston with 21 points on 5-9 shooting from deep. The Lions will always need to have a hand in his face as he looks to spot up behind the arc.

Chase Audige, a transfer from William & Mary, brings the type of athleticism to the Wildcats that they usually lack. He can create his own shot and is great in open space. Head coach Chris Collins has been quoted as saying Audige was the best player for the Wildcats last year when he was forced to redshirt due to transferring. The 6’4” sophomore scores just under 13 PPG and will be a handful to contain on the open floor.

Penn State fans should be familiar with Boo Buie, the half-brother of Nittany Lion all-time leading scorer and assistant coach, Talor Battle. Buie, like Battle, is a scorer capable of hitting deep 3s or finishing at the rim. As a freshman in two games last year against the Nittany Lions, he scored a combined 15 points and averages 9.9 PPG this season.

Northwestern is a talented, young team, starting three sophomores and two juniors. Collins always has his teams well prepared and ready to play. The Wildcats have regressed somewhat since Collins led them to their only NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017, but this group has a chance to get them back to the dance at some point. Don’t overlook this team…despite the current losing streak, it isn’t the same old Northwestern everyone is accustomed to beating up on, as evidenced by their stunning 79-65 win over Michigan State to open B1G play.

Keys to the Game

  • Attack the rim. For once in B1G play, Nittany Lions' forays into the paint shouldn’t end with the ball smacked into the seats by a dominant big man. Northwestern doesn’t have a rim protector so getting to the rim should be a priority. Brockington and Sessoms are adept at beating their defender one-on-one off the dribble and finishing. Wheeler should be able to penetrate and find an open shooter. John Harrar should also be able to build on his recent improved play on the offensive end.
  • No Boo-yah. Boo Buie is the engine that makes the Wildcats go. After torching Michigan State for 30 in Northwestern’s upset win, Buie has been rather pedestrian and the team has been worse off because of it. In his last six games, he has shot a combined 8-51 (16%) from the field and had a three-game stretch where he scored a combined 2 points. Jamari needs to lock him down and make sure he doesn’t go under screens to give Boo open looks from deep or easy drives to the rim.
  • Slay the schedule monster. The conference did Penn State no favors when re-scheduling games missed due to COVID concerns. No other team in the country has faced four teams in a week, barring tournaments. Coming off 12 days of isolation and inactivity it’s ridiculous that the team has been forced to face this brutal schedule when there is still another month and a half in which to fit rescheduled games. I’m guessing Tom Izzo wouldn’t have had a schedule like this if Michigan State was in the same situation. Just saying.

Prediction

Penn State holds a 33-19 edge over the Wildcats, including winning three of the last four games played. By far this is the B1G foe the Nittany Lions have had the most success against. This is the game for Penn State’s shooters to knock down shots and for Harrar to own the boards, especially on the offensive end. If the Lions bring the same intensity and tough D without fouling that we saw against Rutgers, and as long as dead legs don’t doom the guys in blue and white, the Lions will walk off their court on the right end of the scoreboard and a two-game winning streak.

Penn State 77, Northwestern 71

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