After breaking a five-game losing streak with a win against Nebraska this past Saturday, Penn State will look to keep momentum going on Thursday night when it hosts Iowa for an 8 p.m. tipoff at the Bryce Jordan Center.
A win would pull the Nittany Lions (11-15, 3-10Big Ten) out of a last place tie in the conference standings with the Cornhuskers as teams jockey for seeding in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. It would also give coach Patrick Chambers and Co. their first winning streak in-conference all season.
The Hawkeyes (13-12, 5-7) will try to avoid falling to the .500 mark and stay safely eligible for postseason play. They were beaten soundly by Northwestern last time out after taking the Lions down 77-64 in Iowa City on Feb. 4.
Here are some things to watch for in the game.
When Penn State has the ball...
-Tim Frazier played one of his most complete games of the season against Nebraska, falling an assist short of a triple-double, and not surprisingly, Penn State won comfortably. If he can continue to make that kind of impact in both ends in this game, it's likely Iowa will suffer a similar fate on the road.
-A big part of Penn State's undoing the first time these two met was a 16-2 run by Iowa to start the game. After that, the Lions were very competitive and, at times, flat better than the Hawkeyes. If Penn State brings intensity from the opening tip, rather than waiting for 10 minutes to find their rhythm, then there's no reason this game can't stay competitive throughout.
-Jermaine Marshall has played a much more consistent brand of basketball in coming off the bench the past two games. He has the talent to start, but sixth man status has caused his shot selection to get better, and his efficiency has gone up as a result. This is his opportunity to really keep that momentum going.
When Iowa has the ball...
-The Hawkeyes had three players (Aaron White, Matt Gatens, and Bryce Cartwright) score at least 17 points in the first matchup, so Penn State really needs to do a better job of team defense. If one of those guys have another big night, that's not nearly as deadly as having all three scoring at that clip. The key will be finding one player to shut down, then closing the vice from there.
-Iowa scored 29 points at the foul line last time, which is obviously a ton, especially compared to Penn State's four. Fouls are unavoidable at times, but Penn State has been prone to giving silly ones in the backcourt. Reduce those and opponents like Iowa will get less opportunities in the bonus over the course of a game.
If Penn State is going to compete for a postseason berth this season, it needs to win this game. In the more likely event that it is using this stretch run to build for a postseason run next year, the Lions have to learn how to string strong performances together. This game, against a good-but-not-great Iowa team at home, might be as good a shot the Lions get the rest of the year to build off a win. Expect them to rise to the occasion. Pick: Penn State, 68-62.