Penn State Big Ten Tournament Preview

Audio/Story posted February 28, 2018 in Sports, CommRadio by Joe Murphy

Ben Jenkins, Jason Marcus and Joe Skinner break down Penn State's chances in the Big Ten Tournament this week in Madison Square Garden:

The question of how far can the Nittany Lions make it in the tournament has varied over the past week after losing their last three games. A big reason for the skid was Mike Watkins' limited availability, and his status at Madison Square Garden has yet to be determined.

Without Watkins, one of the premier shot blockers in the conference, Penn State has been vulnerable in the paint, and Northwestern will look to exploit that with Derek Pardon and Vic Law in Penn State's first-round matchup Thursday night. Pardon shot 60 percent from the floor in both games with Watkins defending him, so Northwestern head coach Chris Collins might feed his junior big man more often with Julian Moore on him.

The key matchup in the game is at the point guard position between Tony Carr and Bryant McIntosh, two of the top points guards in the conference. Carr was a first team all-conference selection, after leading the Big Ten in scoring, and is looking to catalyze a big run that will be required to send the Nittany Lions into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

Josh Reaves is the X-factor for Penn State, as he did not play in the road matchup earlier in the season where the Wildcats won by nine points without him on the floor. His ability to defend the opponent’s top perimeter threat will make it challenging for Northwestern to run an effective offense.

Nazeer Bostick and Jamari Wheeler off the bench will vital for a deep tournament run. The Nittany Lions absolutely need to get solid minutes from outside of their starting five. A victory over Northwestern would set up a third matchup with Ohio State, a team that Penn State has already beaten twice this season.

The Buckeyes possess the Big Ten Player of the Year in Keita Bates-Diop, who had a pair of vastly different games in the two matchups this season. The opening contest saw Bates-Diop go 8-13 from the floor for 25 points, including a game-tying 3-pointer late.

However, he struggled mightily at the Bryce Jordan Center, scoring only 10 points on 11 shots. Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann needs his star to play well along with steady play from second-leading scorer Jae’Sean Tate. The senior is undersized as a 6’4” frontcourt player, but his strong 230-lb frame makes him hard to stop in the paint.

Lamar Stevens’ ability to pull either Tate or Bates-Diop away from the basket allows for him to get into the paint and create plays. Moore will have to provide a presence as a shot-blocker, as the Buckeyes will look to attack the paint with Watkins playing limited minutes.

Purdue is the most likely matchup for Penn State if it can beat Ohio State for the third time and make the semifinals. Purdue's duo of Carsen Edwards and Vincent Edwards will cause problems for the Nittany Lions, as the former put up 27 points in Mackey Arena in the recent win over Penn State.

Dakota Mathias' playmaking ability and Isaac Haas' size down low make senior Shep Garner's three-point shooting a potential game-deciding factor. If Garner is shooting the ball well from deep, Penn State is tough to beat and could slip its way to the final.

The two schools from Michigan are the teams most likely to make the final with the Michigan Wolverines being the one that Penn State matches up better with. The road to Sunday is long and filled with pitfalls, but the journey starts Thursday against Northwestern.

 


Joseph Esquivel-Murphy is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and Spanish. To contact him, email jje5139@psu.edu.