Hoops Preview: Nittany Lions Set for Sunday Showdown with Last-Place Huskers

By Brad Peterson on February 13, 2021 at 1:12 pm
Feb 9, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions guard Sam Sessoms (3) looks to pass the ball as Michigan State Spartans guard Foster Loyer (3) defends during the first half at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
© Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
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Nothing says romance like curling up in front of the TV with your significant other to watch Penn State-Nebraska hoops. OK, maybe not, but maybe some roses and fine chocolate will help convince your main squeeze that your heart is in the right place by watching.

Penn State (7-9, 4-8, #31 NET) is looking to rebound from an excruciating 60-58 loss to Michigan State by hosting B1G cellar-dweller Nebraska on Valentine’s Day. Tuesday’s loss to the Spartans in East Lansing was the fifth time this season the Lions have lost when leading with three minutes remaining in the game. Michigan State closed the game on a 6-0 run to pick up the win. Another cold-shooting first half doomed PSU, but they battled back to take a late lead, only to squander it once again. The Lions only managed to shoot 34.5% from the floor and a frigid 21.7% from behind the arc in the loss. The good news is free-throw shooting has been improving and Tuesday the team hit 13-15, 86.7%.

The statistical numbers for Nebraska are a bit misleading. The Huskers average 71 PPG, but they scored 102 vs. low-major McNeese State in the season opener and 110 vs. NAIA Doane University. Remove those two and the scoring average drops to 66 PPG. They only score 62 PPG in B1G play and 60 PPG on the road, while giving up 80 PPG on the opposition’s home court. Penn State leads the all-time series 11-9, including winning the last two and the Huskers are 1-9 all-time at the BJC. Penn State won 76-64 last year in Lincoln with a balanced scoring attack led by Myles Dread’s 14 points. Lamar Stevens (13), Myreon Jones (13) and Mike Watkins (11) also scored in double figures in the win.

PROJECTED STARTERS

Projected Starters
Penn State   Michigan state
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Sr. 1 Trey McGowens - 6'4 - Jr.
Izaiah Brockington - 6'4" - Jr. 2 Teddy Allen - 6'6" - Jr.
Myreon Jones - 6'3" - Jr. 3 Derrick Walker - 6'8" - Jr.
Seth Lundy - 6'6" - So. 4 Dalano Banton - 6'9" - So.
John Harrar - 6'9" - Sr. 5 Lat Mayen - 6'9" - Jr.

SCOUTING REPORT

Fred Hoiberg is trying to build the program in Lincoln with the same blueprint he used at Iowa State: transfers. Nebraska has eight transfers on the roster, and all five starters are transfers (Pitt, WVU, Tennessee, TCU, and Western Kentucky). The Huskers don’t shoot the ball well, only at 41% from the field, 31% from 3, and 63% from the charity stripe. They are minus-2 in rebounding margin and while the team has great length overall, no player is bigger than 6’10”. There has been a lot of roster turnover, making it difficult for the players to blend into a consistent unit, especially with no preseason this year, but this team does have talent.

WVU-transfer Teddy Allen leads the Huskers in scoring at 16.7 PPG, good for sixth in the conference. Allen is a versatile wing player who can score at all three levels and plays with physicality. He loves to attack the rim, resulting in him getting to the FT line often. Allen averaged 7 PPG as a freshman during WVU’s run to the Sweet 16 in the 2017-18 season and has only gotten better. He averaged 31 PPG at Western Nebraska CC last year, leading all JUCO players in scoring. Containing Allen will be key.

Dalano Banton, a Western Kentucky transfer, is Nebraska’s second-leading scorer at 11.1 PPG, leading rebounder at 6.8 RPG, and assist leader at 4.6 APG. Banton is a match-up nightmare when he brings the ball up the court. His length and athleticism, along with a high basketball IQ and great court vision, present a problem for opposing teams and allows him to get into passing lanes looking for steals and converting those steals into points. Don’t be surprised to see Izaiah Brockington on Banton to try to neutralize him.

Trey McGowens (Pitt) is the only other Husker to average in double figures, 11.1 PPG. McGowens is a former top-100 recruit who brings elite athleticism to the court. McGowens is best described as a playmaker who has an excellent handle and is a good finisher at the rim, with a lethal floater. He is also one of the team’s best 3-point shooters at 38%. McGowens had 64 starts in two seasons at Pitt, averaging double figures in scoring during his time with the Panthers and scored 33 as a freshman against Louisville.

Lat Mayen and Derrick Williams round out the starters. Mayen is a volume shooter who has a high motor and moves well without the ball. Mayen is averaging over 14 PPG in the last five games, including his career-high vs. Illinois, so he’s coming into the contest playing with confidence. Williams plays a very physical game and will bang inside.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Seeing red. The Lions need to come out angry, intense, and determined after the loss in East Lansing. Clamp down on D, build an early lead, and never let the thought of a win enter the minds of the Huskers. This will be Nebraska’s fifth game in eight days, and they are playing this game less than 48 hours after playing an OT game against Illinois in Lincoln, so make those tired legs feel even heavier by making them play from behind from the opening tip.

Harrar’s heart. One of the team’s biggest questions coming into the season was would there be a post presence. Question answered. John Harrar has become a force in the middle and Penn State’s most consistent player. Against Michigan, State Harrar continued his string of great games with 17 points and 14 rebounds on 6-8 shooting and 5-7 from the FT line. It was Harrar’s fourth career double-double and he tied his career highs in points and rebounds. In the last five games, Harrar has averaged a double-double with 13.6 PPG and 10 RPG, shooting 63% from the floor (20-32) and 80% from the line (28-35). This is a game Harrar can dominate inside. Feed Big John the ball in the post.

Victory on V Day. This is a must-win game for the Lions to have any chance at an NCAA Tournament berth. The Huskers are reeling, losing nine straight and they haven't won a game of importance since December. The Nittany Lions need to push the pace and do whatever it takes to pick up the W. Just win baby.

PREDICTION

Everything points to a win for the Nittany Lions in this one; Nebraska has lost nine straight, including every road game this season; they’ve dropped 25 B1G games in a row; this is the fifth game in eight days; and a quick turnaround from a Friday night game in Lincoln. It also has all the makings of a trap game. It would be easy for the Lions to overlook the Huskers and be looking ahead to the Ohio State, Iowa, and Purdue games looming on the horizon. Hopefully, Jim Ferry has the team focused and they dispatch the visitors for their eighth straight win at home in the series. I predict the blue and white will wear the Huskers down and will prevail, keeping their slim tournament hopes alive.

Penn State 75 Nebraska 63

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