Well I don't know if this is necessarily a must win game, but it's a drastically need to win game as Indiana head into Happy Valley to take on the Nittany Lions tomorrow at noon. As I sit here and think about this game this morning, I'm concerned it could be a loss, but more concerned about the overreactions. Either way, a loss to a better than expected Penn State will not be good for Hoosier fans' hearts. All of that being said, as I look at the numbers I'm feeling a lot more confident than I was earlier in the week.
So far on the year, Penn State has beat no one of Indiana's quality. Only their semi-away victory over St. John's comes close. They've now opened the conference season 0-3. Losing to Michigan State at home after putting up a hard fight in the first half, getting housed by Illinois on the road and taking Minnesota to the wire at home on Wednesday. Some of the time they look like a feasible middle of the pack Big Ten team and at other times they look like Penn State. Take Wednesday's game against Minnesota for example. In the first half Penn State scored 7 points in the first 10 minutes and then turned around and put up 28 in the final 10 of the half.
Turn it around and in the second half they put up 10 minute spurts of 12 and 18 which isn't exactly something to write home about either. Pretty much all you can say about those spurts in scoring is that it completely hinges on the play of two players. If Tim Frazier and DJ Newbill are getting their shots to fall then they can cause problems. If the defense properly defends the drive and kicks then Penn State is pretty well done for. Which brings us to the main focus of the Nittany Lions. Tim Frazier.
Frazier, a 5th year senior coming off a season ending injury early last year, is picking up roughly where he left off. He's easily one of the top 5 guards in the conference but because of the squad he plays for is constantly undersold. Still he shoots well, draws tons of fouls, hits his free throws, plays a ton of minutes and is the 11th best player in the country at making his teammates better through assist rates. To be honest, I didn't know it was possible to get assists on 40% of your possessions let alone have 10 people in the country still able to do it better (apparently our old friend from LIU Brooklyn, Jason Brickman, is assisting 55% of his possessions). That's just a phenomenal rate state and tells us that Frazier doesn't just drive and kick, but he kicks it to the best guy to take the shot in each situation. That means Indiana has to focus on keeping him out of the lane and not over helping when he inevitably does.
The Robin to his Batman and suspect #1 for the guy that hurts us if we slow Frazier is junior DJ Newbill. A big bodied guard, who shoots well, he's the biggest benefactor of Frazier drawing so much attention this year. He shoots well from range, mostly on set shots, but can take his defender off the bounce as well. He was a no show against Minnesota after getting ejected for a scuffle against Illinois, so perhaps he's mentally not all there at the moment which is a plus. However he's still a drive and shoot guy. He's going to put his head down and go at the rim a lot, it's up to the defense to avoid fouling and altering his floaters and layups in traffic.
Outside of the very strong guard play Penn State will not show a ton of height. 6-9 is where they top out with sophomore Donovon Jack and even then he only gets 20 minutes a game. Meaning that for half the game Penn State will be going 6-7 or smaller. That's reflective in their rebounding to date. Ross Travis at 6-6 225 lbs plays a pretty undersized power forward role. He used to be a exterior SF but his poor shooting that hasn't improved over the years has forced him to add weight and bang down low. Despite his smaller size for the post his specialty is rebounding the basketball. In fact he's the only player for Penn State that is any sort of offensive rebounding threat. 6-7 Brandon Taylor offers some help on the defensive end, but overall there should be a lot of chances for Indiana to start fast breaks and garner second chance points.
When you look at Pomeroy for this game he has it essentially being a tossup. Indiana can't score to save their lives, just like Penn State struggles to get stops. However, Penn State's offense also has their struggles, while Indiana's defense is still top 40 (but falling). If there were a game for Indiana to come out and put a hurt on someone and turn their perceived season around, this game is it. They know they've got a very tough Wisconsin coming to town next week and this game is going to be key to avoiding a meltdown. Of course, we'll take a win on the road in the Big Ten in any manner, but I'd really like to walk away with double digits. Right now there's Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and then the rest in the conference. Indiana needs to find their way in the front of the next tier of Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Purdue. Winning at Penn State is one of things that has to be done if they want to do that.