Penn State Basketball at Northwestern Preview: Lions Look to Keep Momentum Going

By Vincent Lungaro on January 4, 2022 at 5:55 pm
Jan 2, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions guard Jalen Pickett (22) dribbles the ball as Indiana Hoosiers guard Xavier Johnson (0) and forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) defend during the first half at Bryce Jordan Center. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
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After notching Micah Shrewsberry's first Big Ten win as head coach against Indiana on Sunday, Penn State (6-5, 1-2 Big Ten) will look to keep that momentum rolling when it takes on Northwestern (8-3, 1-1).

The Nittany Lions face the Wildcats at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday from Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston.

While Penn State heads into this matchup with the momentum of a win, Northwestern must regroup after a tough 73-67 loss to No. 10 Michigan State in its previous outing. The Wildcats led 33-26 at the break against the Spartans but were outscored by Tom Izzo's squad by 13 in the second half to fall back down to .500 in Big Ten play.

PROJECTED STARTERS

PENN STATE NORTHWESTERN
G Jaheam Cornwall - 6'0 - Sr. G Boo Buie - 6'2 - Jr.
G Jalen Pickett - 6'4 - Sr. G Ty Berry - 6'3 - So.
F Seth Lundy - 6'6 - Jr. G Chase Audige - 6'4 - Jr.
F Greg Lee - 6'9 - Sr. F Robbie Beran - 6'9 - Jr.
F John Harrar - 6'9 - Sr. F Pete Nance - 6'10 - Sr. 

Micah Shrewsberry has used a variety of starting lineups through 11 games but this opening five could be the one we see most nights the rest of this season. I think having Sam Sessoms and Myles Dread come off the bench gives Penn State a scoring punch that's been missing at times with the second unit.

Greg Lee's inclusion allows Seth Lundy to slide down to the three-spot where he looks much more comfortable (his 1-of-9 shooting performance against the Hoosiers notwithstanding) and the former Western Michigan Bronco's style of play pairs nicely with John Harrar in the post.

Lee made his debut with Penn State in the Dec. 11 loss to Michigan State, getting 15 minutes under his belt. His first start with the Nittany Lions and contributed with six points and four rebounds. As he gets more minutes under his belt in his return from the injury that kept him out of the first 10 games of the season, expect those numbers to steadily rise.

series history

Penn State and Northwestern have met 54 times prior to Wednesday's game, with the former holding a 34-20 edge.

The Nittany Lions won last season's only meeting 81-78 inside the Bryce Jordan Center.

scouting report

Northwestern is led by senior forward Pete Nance, who holds team-leading marks of 16.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Nance has very efficient, shooting over 50 percent from the field. That includes a 40 percent clip from three, up from his average of 36 percent last year. He was instrumental in the team's Big Ten opening win at Maryland, pacing the Wildcats with 17 points and 10 rebounds for his seventh career double-double. Defensively, he leads the team in blocked shots (40), using his wingspan and athletic ability to protect the rim effectively.

As most Penn State fans know by now, Wildcats guard Boo Buie is the half-brother of Nittany Lion all-time leading scorer Talor Battle. Battle will also be facing his alma mater for the first time since joining Chris Collins' staff in the offseason. Back to Buie, he's the team leader in assists and second in scoring (14.6 ppg). A lot of what Collins likes to do offensively runs through Buie as he's a very capable passer and can hurt a defense from inside and out. His 3-point shooting numbers are down so far this season, however, shooting just 30 percent from three.

Northwestern has two other players in double figures for scoring in Chase Audige (11.3 ppg) and Ryan Young (10.6 ppg). Audige is a very athletic player who can create his own shot. The problem is he often tries to force his own shot no matter what, an issue that was on display in the loss to Michigan State. Audige had a team-high 14 field goal attempts against the Spartans, but only made three of them. He was also just 1-of-7 from three.

Young has proven to be the Wildcats' sixth-man, leading the team in bench points and shooting percentage (63 percent). He's got two 20-point performances under his belt this season.

keys to the game

  • Win the 3-point shooting battle. Penn State is 5-1 when it makes 10 or more triples, including the 11 made in Sunday's win over the Hoosiers. On the flip side, the Nittany Lions are just 1-4 when they don't make at least 10 triples. The Wildcats have a couple of dangerous outside shooters in their own right, including Nance, sophomore guard Ty Berry (46 percent), and senior guard Ryan Greer (47 percent). In the win over Indiana, the Nittany Lions held the Hoosiers to just 24 percent shooting from three (4-of-17). Hitting shots from beyond the arc while also limiting the 3-point looks Northwestern gets will be a huge factor in Penn State's hopes to win its second Big Ten game this year.
  • Keep Boo Buie in check. Like I mentioned above, Buie is the catalyst for a lot of what Northwestern looks to do offensively. Whether it's Jalen Pickett or someone else, whoever is matched up with Buie on the defensive end has to make sure he doesn't dictate the flow and tempo of the game. In previous meetings, this assignment would go to Jamari Wheeler, who did a pretty good job of containing Buie. Penn State doesn't have that luxury this time around.
  • Continue defensive intensity. Penn State's defense has held six of its last eight opponents at least 10 points under their season scoring averages. Micah Shrewsberry has talked constantly about how defensive effort gives "us a chance to win." Whatever success or struggles the Nittany Lions are going to have on offense, it's what level of effort Penn State plays with on defense that's going to keep it in games or make the difference to win them. That holds true for Wednesday against Northwestern.

prediction

This is really a challenging game to call. Northwestern has exceeded a lot of outside expectations to this point, with some decent wins and closer-than-expected losses. Penn  State is probably right where a lot of us expected them to be, hovering around .500. It will be interesting to see if the momentum can continue after that upset over the Hoosiers. Whichever team can hit enough shots from 3-point land will get the win. Expect another back and forth game with a close finish in Evanston.  
Prediction: Penn State 65, Northwestern 62

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