Penn State Basketball Conference Preview

Story posted December 28, 2017 in Sports, CommRadio by Joe Murphy

As the calendar year comes to a close, teams around the nation are ending their nonconference slate and focusing on conference foes. Every team wants to start conference play with a quick start as the conference season can be taxing on a team.

Penn State understands this feeling as it enters Big Ten play with the potential to leap into the top half of the conference. The Nittany Lions opened conference play in early December with mixed results as they won its opening game on the road against Iowa, but dropped the home opener to Wisconsin.

The ability to win on the road is important in conference play as the Nittany Lions restart Big Ten play at Maryland, an arena that is one of the largest in the Big Ten. The Terrapins are a talented team but lack the experience needed to come through in big games.

Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers understands the importance of defense in major conference games and redshirt sophomore Mike Watkins is his biggest asset in stopping Maryland and Northwestern in the paint. Watkins’ ability to alter shots around the rim makes him a nightmare for opposing teams as Penn State plays more aggressive when he’s on the floor.
His improved post game makes him one of Penn State’s most valuable players as he is connecting on almost 70 percent of his shots. If Watkins can stay out of foul trouble against Wisconsin’s freshman forward Bruno Fernando and Northwestern’s junior center Derek Pardon, Penn State has a great chance of winning both games to open up conference play.

The most intriguing matchups on the floor against both teams are at the point guard position. Maryland’s Anthony Cowan and Northwestern's Bryant McIntosh are two of the nation’s most underrated guards with their ability to get in the lane and distribute. The one aspect of both their games that is a little suspect is defense, which is something that the Nittany Lions can exploit in sophomore guard Tony Carr, the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer.

Carr’s added bulk and improved shooting has made him a mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses as he can shoot over almost any defender that’ is guarding him. The one flaw in Carr’s game is his shot selection as he sometimes dribbles the clock out and forces a difficult shot in traffic.

The Nittany Lions need Carr to play under control throughout the game as his play at the end of the Wisconsin and Rider games resulted in losses. His backcourt running mate in senior guard Shep Garner was almost automatic against Rider in the first half but struggled to find the range in the next half.

Consistent shooting from the senior is vital as he and Carr are Penn State’s only real threats from behind the arc. If the Nittany Lions are unable to shoot the three against Maryland or Northwestern, their conference record could be similar to last year. Penn State entered the year with a lot of promise due to the rising young talent on its roster, but a strong showing against Maryland and Northwestern will prove how good this young Penn State team is.


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