For Penn State, it's win or go home from here on out.
The Nittany Lions (12-19, 4-14 Big Ten), by virtue of their poor record, have not a prayer of salvaging an at-large berth in a national postseason tournament. Their last hope to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament is to take the automatic bid awarded to the winner of the Big Ten Tournament, which opens on Thursday afternoon in Indianapolis, .
The first obstacle on No. 12-seeded Penn State's road to the Big Dance is No. 5 seed Indiana. The teams will square off at roughly 2:00 p.m. on the Big Ten Network in a first round battle, hoping to secure a spot in a quarterfinal matchup against No. 4 seed Wisconsin on Friday.
The Hoosiers (24-7, 11-7 Big Ten) swept the Lions in the regular season, escaping with an 88-82 win in State College on Jan. 8 before earning a 73-54 victory in Bloomington on Jan. 22. Penn State did take Indiana down in this 12-5 game last year, however, on its way to a championship game loss against Ohio State, though the seedings of the two teams were reversed from this year.
Here are some things to watch for in the game...
When Penn State has the ball...
-Tim Frazier is averaging 21.0 points per game against the Hoosiers this season, but he's just 2-9 shooting from the perimeter against them. In the interest of efficiency, he'd probably be better served to give those shots to someone else, or find better ones for himself this time. If he avoids the deeps shots, he'll be that much more dangerous this time, which will be a significant boost to Penn State's upset hopes.
-When these teams last met in Bloomington, Nick Colella was the only Lion to join Frazier in double figures with 11 points. Someone has to step up this time and join them, be it the forward trio of Sasa Borovnjak, Ross Travis and Jonathan Graham or second-leading scorer Jermaine Marshall.
-Penn State hasn't shot the ball well away from the Bryce Jordan Center all year, so it will be important as ever for the Lions to generate as many second chances off turnovers and offensive rebounds as possible. This is especially true in this game, as the Hoosiers, playing just an hour or so from their campus, will have a decided homecourt advantage. Extra opportunities will be helpful in combating any shooting woes Penn State might run into.
When Indiana has the ball...
-Indiana's Jordan Hulls lit Penn State up for seven 3-pointers in Happy Valley and drilled a pair in Bloomington for good measure. Needless to say, stopping him should be a top priority this time.
-Hulls isn't the only one who has shot well against Penn State from deep, though. As a team, Indiana is a devastating 23-40 (57.5 percent) beyond the arc in this series. Freshman Cody Zeller is a tough guard on the inside and the Lions can't let him simply go wild while trying to stop the 3-ball, but more attention has to be paid to the perimeter this time or things could get ugly fast.
-Penn State put Indiana on the line 55 times in the first two games, which is entirely too many. The Lions need to make sure this game is decided with the ball in play.
Long term, Penn State's prospects aren't very good in this tournament. The Lions are the No. 12 seed for a reason, after all. State doesn't have much to lose at this point, though, and Indiana is pretty safely locked in the tournament. For that reason, it wouldn't be shocking to see coach Patrick Chambers and Co. put together one last good effort to make a run at the Hoosiers and start the offseason on a (relatively) high note. That's no promise they'll win, but expect the Lions to make a game of it. Pick: Indiana, 70-61.