Penn State returns to the Bryce Jordan Center for an 8 p.m. tipoff against Wisconsin on Tuesday looking to get back on track following a pair of road defeats at Indiana and Ohio State last week.
The Badgers (17-5, 6-3 Big Ten) opened conference play 1-3 but have been red-hot ever since, running off five consecutive wins, the most recent a 57-50 victory against Indiana last Thursday. Over that span, their slow pace and smothering defense has limited opponents to just 55.4 points per game.
That's not good news for the Nittany Lions (10-12, 2-7), averaging just 62.5 points per game this season, nor is news from coach Patrick Chambers Monday that starting power forward Billy Oliver will not play Tuesday as he continues to deal with concussion-like symptoms. Oliver, averaging 7.3 points per game so far this season, has missed the last three games and Penn State has not eclipsed the 54-point plateau in any of them.
Here are some things to watch for when the teams clash at the BJC.
When Penn State has the ball...
-Penn State must treat every possession like its last in this game, as Wisconsin's slow pace will limit offensive opportunities. If the Lions compound that by turning the ball over, and giving the Badgers not only possessions but a chance to run 25-plus seconds off the shot clock, Penn State will have a very tough time scoring enough points to win, regardless of how well it plays at the defensive end.
-Tim Frazier is averaging 6.3 assists per game this season but has just five in his last two games. Frazier is at his best when he gets his teammates involved, so it'd be helpful for the Lions chances if he got back to that a little more in this one.
-Despite struggles in other areas, Penn State was solid in the offensive rebounding department against Indiana and Ohio State, outrebounding both opponents. Similar success against Wisconsin will help offset the effects of a slow pace by leading to crucial second chances.
When Wisconsin has the ball...
-Just as it can with offensive rebounds, Penn State can generate extra opportunities by forcing turnovers. That's a pretty elementary concept, but again, when facing a team that plays at Wisconsin's pace, the basics become so crucial.
-Wisconsin boasts four players averaging at least 9.7 points per game, so the offense Penn State will face is pretty balanced. That's good news and bad news, as all players on the floor can be dangerous, but have proven they can be stopped collectively by good team defense. In its three Big Ten losses, Wisconsin shot no better than 34.8 percent from the field, meaning, if the Lions avoid keying on one or two players, they should have a good opportunity of keeping themselves in the game.
Penn State has the talent to play with Wisconsin, but the poor shot selection and lax ball security we've seen from the young Lions at points this season makes an upset here unlikely. Possessions are simply too scarce at The Badgers' slow pace to end with the contested 3-pointers or turnovers after failed drives into heavy traffic we've seen frequently from the Lions this season. Those are the things Wisconsin likes to force opponents into and its reasonable to expect the Penn State to play into that if they fall behind. The Lions' best chance will be to establish an early lead so it can afford to be more methodical with its possessions. Pick: Wisconsin 65-51