Penn State vs. Wisconsin Preview
Coming off a 71-62 win over Northwestern, one of the best of a thus-far dismal season, the Nittany Lions (11-8, 2-4 Big Ten) return home Thursday to host Wisconsin (10-9, 2-4 Big Ten). The Badgers come in with some momentum as well, having just knocked off then-No. 4 Michigan State 77-76 on Sunday.
Senior forward Donovon Jack has emerged in the last two games with back-to-back double-digit scoring performances. He has been the most consistent big man over the last couple of weeks and he may start to see the bulk of the minutes while center Jordan Dickerson struggles with scoring and foul trouble.
Brandon Taylor continued his solid season with a strong performance against Northwestern, knocking down four 3-pointers, more than the entire Northwestern team combined. He paced the Nittany Lions with 19 points to bring his scoring average up to a team-high 16.4 points per game.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, looks to stay hot and avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003. Already with four conference losses, they face an uphill battle to make it back to postseason play, but they can lean on Nigel Hayes, the only remaining starter from last year’s national runner-up squad, to fill the void left by Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Hayes has put together a nice season, averaging 16.3 points and 3.6 assists per game, both team highs.
Interim head coach Greg Gard is close to turning the corner with this young Wisconsin team after only losing by three to Maryland and taking down Michigan State in consecutive weeks. He looks to add a Big Ten road win to his resume with a victory over Penn State.
The Badgers lack a lethal 3-point shooter, which is good news for Penn State, a team that so far has been torched from downtown in their losses. Northwestern only shot 11.5 percent (3-26) from long range over the weekend against the Lions, one of the main reasons that Penn State was able to win that game. Bronson Koenig has been the best shooter for Wisconsin, hitting 38 percent of his threes, but guys like Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown will have to be successful inside if the Badgers want to win.
Freshman Josh Reaves will miss his third straight game for the Nittany Lions as he continues to battle mono.
Prediction: Penn State 75, Wisconsin 71
It’s always difficult to follow up a marquee win with a solid performance, and the Badgers will certainly have some hangover from Sunday’s big win. Shep Garner vs. Bronson Koenig at the point guard position will be a matchup to watch, and if either player can get off to a hot start and knock down some early shots, that could be a key factor in who wins this game. If guys like Brandon Taylor and Payton Banks can shut down Nigel Hayes on the offensive end, then Penn State should feel pretty confident about their chances, especially if Donovon Jack continues to play well.
Tom Shively is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.