Penn State and Iowa will clash for the first of two games in 12 days on Saturday when they tipoff a 3:00 PM matchup at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
The Hawkeyes (12-11, 4-6) will be trying to stay postseason-eligible by putting more distance between themselves and the .500 mark. The slipped past Minnesota 63-59 on Wednesday, but lost their previous three games before that victory.
The Nittany Lions (10-13, 2-8) are in the midst of their third three-game losing streak of the season following a 52-46 loss against Wisconsin this past Tuesday. Their offense hasn't scored more than 54 points in four games without Billy Oliver, suffering from concussion-like symptoms, so it will be interesting to see how they respond on the road, a place they haven't won in Big Ten play all season.
Here are some things to watch for in the game.
When Penn State has the ball...
-Penn State will need a third scorer to emerge to have a chance. On the losing streak, Tim Frazier has scored double-figures three times and Jermaine Marshall has reached that plateau twice. Beyond them, Cammeron Woodyard and Nick Colella have done it once each. More consistency from the third option is key.
-The Lions out-rebounded their opponents on the offensive glass in all three of the games on the losing streak. Part of that is a byproduct of horrific shooting from the field, but it still shows great hustle to generate the second chances Penn State has of late. If Penn State repeats that effort, it should be able to stay in the game.
When Iowa has the ball...
-The Hawkeyes have five players averaging at least 8.1 points per game, and average 74.0 points as a team, so they're another balanced Big Ten group. Penn State stayed in the game with Wisconsin by playing solid team defense, so it's reasonable to expect a similar effort in this one.
-Indiana put up 103 points against Iowa last weekend by forcing 17 turnovers and converting on them. Clearly, this is a team vulnerable to defensive pressure, so the Lions would be wise to force the issues on defense to generate some extra opportunities.
After a brutal three-game stretch against ranked opponents, Penn State gets to play a team much closer to its level. That's not to say a win will be easy or even likely, especially not on the road, but the Lions won't be swimming against quite as strong a current. Expect defense to keep the score reasonably close throughout. If Penn State is going to win, though, it's going to need some offense, and until we see them eclipse 54 points without Oliver, it's hard to pick them to win any game. Pick: Iowa 60-53.