Indiana will hope to build a much-needed win streak here at the midpoint of the Big Ten season with Penn State coming to Assembly Hall.
Things have been trending up for the Hoosiers of late, but this is one of the only remaining games in which the computers favor Indiana, so this game could be bigger than a sleepy Saturday morning tip feels.
This Penn State team is not the same kind of Penn State team that’s given Big Ten teams trouble over the past few seasons. Micah Shrewsberry took his high-powered offense to Notre Dame and the Nittany Lions are still adjusting to their new systems on both ends.
They’re led by some familiar faces though, like Kanye Clary, who leads the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game as a sophomore. Throw in transfer guard Ace Baldwin Jr. and the Nittany Lions have a backcourt that could give any Big Ten team fits.
This isn’t a game Indiana can sleep walk through.
Here’s Three Things to know about Penn State:
Shrewsberry’s replacement, Mike Rhoades, is about the polar opposite of what Shrewsberry was, systems wise. His teams at VCU, where he coached last year, were defense-first and worse than 300th nationally in percentage of offense from behind the three point line.
On paper, this is a good matchup for Indiana. Penn State this year, while not as bad as VCU last year, has taken a major drop off in 3-point attempts. Which makes sense considering they shoot just 30.5% from behind the arc, putting them at 306th among all Division I teams.
Once he gets his guys in and his system fully installed, Penn State could become a defensive powerhouse. Even at VCU, a good mid-major, but not a Big Ten team, he had a top 15 defensive efficiency rating.
The bad news for Penn State fans is that installing a good defense takes time, and this team isn’t there yet. As of now, the Nittany Lions have the 108th most efficient defense nationally, with opponents shooting 53% from 2-point range.
With or without Malik Reneau, Indiana is going to have a chance to score inside, which has been Indiana’s bread and butter this year.
As mentioned earlier, Penn State’s offense is led by a pair of guards in Ace Baldwin Jr. and Kanye Clary. They also get good production from junior Nick Kern jr., who starts on the wing and averages just about 8 points a game in over 20 minutes of action per contest.
Of the three, Clary is the best 3-point shooter, hitting 37.8% of his 3.7 attempts per game. Baldwin attempts more at 4.5 per game, but is currently hitting just 31.9% of those shots, his lowst percentage since his freshman season at VCU.
As somebody who has shot well before, Indiana still cannot afford to give Baldwin space to get hot. Keisei Tominaga came into the Indiana game in a bit of a shooting slump before torching the Hoosiers for 28 points on 4-10 3-point shooting.
Indiana’s backcourt will have a defensive challenge on its hands, so having Xavier Johnson back would be huge, even if just for having a deeper rotation. None of these guards will physically overwhelm Indiana, but Penn State’s offense runs through them, so they will be playing a lot of defense in this game.
Despite encountering the typical growing pains of a first year head coach, Penn State has notched some quality wins already this year. This past Wednesday, the Nittany Lions went into Jersey Mike’s Arena and pulled out a 61-46 win over a stifling Rutgers defense.
The most impressive win though this year was its home victory over Wisconsin, which stood as the Badgers’ lone Big Ten loss until they fell in overtime to Nebraska. At 4-6 in the conference, they’re just one game behind Indiana in the Big Ten standings.
Sorting that out is a bit difficult given just how bad every Big Ten team has looked at points this year, but Penn State’s other notable wins include a neutral site (though still in Pennsylvania) win over Michigan and a three point home win over Michigan in early January.
No matter what Vegas or the statistics say, this is not a team that Indiana can afford to take lightly as it scrambles to assemble a hopeful NCAA Tournament resume in this bloodbath of a conference.