Hoops Preview: Wisconsin Badgers Look to Continue Dominance over Penn State Nittany Lions

By Brad Peterson on January 30, 2021 at 11:31 am
Jan 27, 2021; College Park, Maryland, USA; Wisconsin Badgers guard D'Mitrik Trice (0) looks back to the bench during the first half against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
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Wisconsin Badgers
13-4 (7-3 B1G)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE

3:00 p.m. EST – Saturday, Jan. 30
Bryce Jordan Center
University Park, PA

7:00 p.m. EST – Tuesday, Feb. 2
Kohl Center
Madison, WI

Watch Info: BTN (Saturday), FS1 (Tuesday)
KenPom Rank: 11

Penn State heads into the weekend with a unique back-to-back home-and-home series on tap with Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions (5-7, 2-6, #35 NET) host the Badgers Saturday afternoon and the two teams will then head west, in honor of Groundhog Day, for a repeat performance on Tuesday.

Both teams last played Wednesday night, coming out on opposite ends of 2-possession games. Penn State lost 83-79 to Ohio State in a very competitive game that the Nittany Lions led with two minutes remaining. It was one of the most complete games the Lions have played but came up just short. "I thought our guys really came in here and competed tonight," interim head coach Jim Ferry said after the loss. "We really executed and got some good looks. They made one more play than we did."

Wisconsin (13-4, 7-3, #16 NET) sits in 3rd place in the B1G after a 61-55 victory at Maryland. The Badgers, as has been their tendency, jumped out to a huge first half lead, 38-20. On the season, the Badgers have outscored opponents 581-440 in the first half of games for a 34-26 average advantage. Maryland opened the 2nd half with a 20-5 run to cut the lead to three, but that is as close as they got. Micah Potter led Wisconsin with 23 points and 12 rebounds, including his third three-point play of the game and then a 3-pointer to stretch the lead back to 10 after the Terps’ opening flurry. D’Mitrik Trice added 13 in the win.

If you feel like Wisconsin is always a match-up nightmare for Penn State, you would be correct. Wisconsin holds a 39-10 advantage over Penn State since the series began in 1992, including winning the last 13 games. The Lions’ last win over Wisconsin was the infamous 36-33 game in the 2011 B1G tourney. During the 13-game losing streak, the Lions have averaged just 56 PPG, with a high of 72. The two faced off just once last year, with Wisconsin winning 58-49 at the Jordan Center. Micah Potter had a career-high 24 in the win, with Brad Davison adding 11. Only four players scored in the loss for the Lions, with Lamar Stevens (19) and Izaiah Brockington (15) combining for 34 of the team’s 49 points. If those numbers aren’t sobering enough, here’s one more for you: Zero. That is the number of times the Nittany Lions have won at the Kohl Center. Zero is also the number of times Badgers head coach Greg Gard has lost to the Lions.

Projected Starters
Penn State Ohio State
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Sr. D’Mitrik Trice – 6’0” – Sr.
Myreon Jones - 6'3" - Jr. Aleem Ford – 6’8” – Sr.
Izaiah Brockington - 6'4" - Jr. Micah Potter – 6’10” – Sr.
Seth Lundy - 6'6" - So. Brad Davison – 6’4” – Sr.
John Harrar - 6'9" -  Sr. Tyler Wahl – 6’9” – So.

Scouting Report

D’Mitrik Trice is the go-to guy for the Badgers. The senior guard leads the team in scoring at 14.5 PPG, assists at 3.9 per game, shoots 42% from behind the arc and leads the team in minutes at 32 per game. Trice was 3rd team all-B1G last year and is the first junior in Wisconsin basketball history to amass 1,000 points, 300 rebounds and 300 assists. He makes the offense go and rarely makes mistakes. It will be tough for PSU’s pressure defense to turn him over.

Ohio State transfer Micah Potter is the only other Badger to average double figure scoring, at 12.7 PPG. The 6’ 10” Potter is the team’s leading rebounder at 6.8 per game and is a perfect fit for Wisconsin’s offense, as he can post-up effectively and also shoots 40% from deep.

Three Badgers average just under 10 points per game. Aleem Ford (9.2), Brad Davison (9.2) and Nate Reuvers (9.0) help make up one of the most experienced cores in the NCAA. The average age of these five is 23. For comparison, two NBA teams, the Grizzlies and Timberwolves, have an average age of 24. Because of that experience the Badgers are quite comfortable taking late shots and will make opponents defend for the full shot clock. Rebounding will be key, because giving up offensive rebounds will result in long stretches of defending Wisconsin’s swing offense.

As you can see by the scoring averages, the Badgers typically have balanced scoring, with six different players leading the team in scoring in games this year. While facets of the swing offense are still utilized heavily (playing inside-out, with guards posting up and bigs shooting from outside, as well as spreading the floor and setting multiple screens) this team will run when the opportunity presents itself, unlike the Bo Ryan teams of the past. The Badgers score 72 PPG and only allow 62 PPG. Most importantly, Wisconsin doesn’t turn the ball over, averaging only 8.6 TOs per game, #3 in all of D1. The Badgers have a streak of 33 straight games with 12 or fewer turnovers, so it will be tough for PSU to get offense from their pressure D

Keys to the Game

  • Dribble penetration. Maryland made their run against Wisconsin by spreading the floor and attacking the rim off dribble penetration. While Nate Reuvers is the Badgers’ all-time leader in blocked shots, you can get to the rim against Wisconsin. Penetrating and finishing or finding open shooters, and knocking down those looks, will be key.
  • Defensive rotation. PSU players will need to have their heads on a swivel all game. The Badgers will screen incessantly and getting caught in poor switches when rotating will lead to easy baskets. Shooters need to be identified and have a hand in their face or cut-off from driving lanes. The Lions also must continue to play tough D without fouling.
  • Control the pace. Basketball is a game of rhythm. You want to establish yours and disrupt theirs. This is definitely a game of contrasting styles. Penn State wants to play a fast, frenetic game. Wisconsin wants to grind. The team that exerts their will and controls the pace will control the scoreboard. A word of caution to Penn State…to quote the legendary John Wooden “go fast, but don’t hurry”. Rushed shots in this game, if missed, will doom the blue and white.

Prediction

The key number in this rare home-and-home series is 67; this season Wisconsin is 11-0 when scoring 67 and 10-0 when holding opponents under 67. Penn State’s scoring average of 77 PPG portends a test of wills. The team that can play at their desired pace will come out on top. History has shown Wisconsin to be the master at playing at their tempo, not just against Penn State, but especially against Penn State. A fast start by the Lions will be critical to have any chance at an upset because trying to play catch-up against the Badgers is a losing proposition. Once again, I see the Nittany Lions playing well, especially at home, but not well enough to pull out a W, and Wisconsin’s years-long dominance will persist.

Wisconsin 69 Penn State 64 (@ Penn State)

Wisconsin 72 Penn State 61 (@ Wisconsin)

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