Penn State vs. Pittsburgh Preview

Story posted December 3, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Bradford Conners

After playing 85 minutes of hard-fought basketball in a 24-hour span this weekend, the Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2) won’t have much time to recover, as they go on the road for the their toughest test of the season against the Pittsburgh Panthers (7-0) on Tuesday night, as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Playing in the Barclays Center Classic this weekend, Pat Chambers’ squad pulled out an 89-82 overtime victory over St. John’s on Friday, before falling to Ole Miss, 79-76, in the title game.

The Panthers, meanwhile, have cruised through the first seven games of their 2013-14 campaign. They’ve won each contest by 17 points or more, with the latest being an 84-67 triumph over Duquesne on Saturday.

Penn State and Pitt have each been clicking on the offensive end in the early going, as both teams have netted 74 points or more in every game this season. However, the two sides rely on different areas of their team to provide the majority of their scoring.

To no one’s surprise, the Nittany Lions have utilized a very guard-oriented offense this year, with Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill combining to average 39 points per game on the season. The Panthers, though, have been more reliant on their frontcourt to carry the scoring load. Swingman Lamar Patterson leads Pitt with 17 points per game, followed by forwards Talib Zanna and Durand Johnson with 13 and 10 points per contest, respectively.

Patterson has been the difference-maker for the Panthers this year, as he has seen his scoring average rise by 7 PPG, as compared to last season, despite playing the same number of minutes. In addition, his three-point percentage has jumped from 34% to 47%, his free throw percentage has climbed from 66% to 83%, and his assist output has nearly doubled to a team-leading 5.3 APG.

Patterson will likely be matched up with Ross Travis, who will be looking to build off of his best performance of the season against Ole Miss, in which he contributed 17 points and 13 rebounds. Travis has scored in double figures in six of Penn State’s first eight games, after doing so just eight times all of last season. The Nittany Lions will also need another big effort from Travis on the glass against a Pitt team that is second in the ACC with a +12.5 rebounding margin.

Another player looking to ride the momentum of an impressive showing this weekend is D.J. Newbill. The junior guard netted 48 points in the two games on 20-for-32 (63%) shooting, including a 10-for-14, 25-point effort on Saturday. After shooting at a 41% clip a season ago, Newbill has sunk 49% of his field-goal tries this year, including 43% from long range.

The Nittany Lions have been living and dying by the three-point shot this season, and in order to pull off the upset in a difficult road environment at the Petersen Events Center on Tuesday, they’ll need Brandon Taylor to regain his shooting touch. After pouring in a career-high 25 points against Longwood, Taylor shot just 7-for-24 (29%) in three games last week.

One area in which Penn State has excelled through the first eight games, has been its ability to take care of the basketball. The Nittany Lions have averaged just 8.8 turnovers per contest, and they’ll need to continue that trend against the Panthers, who force 15 turnovers per game and are second in the ACC in turnover margin.

Tuesday’s match-up will mark the 146th meeting between Penn State and Pitt, but the two in-state rivals haven’t squared off since 2005. The Nittany Lions lead the all-time series 75-70, but the Panthers have won the last five contests by an average of 25.8 PPG. Tip-off is set for 7:30, and the game can be heard on ComRadio.

Bradford Conners is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email btc5082@psu.edu.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/John Minchillo)