Northwestern hits the road today to face their recent nemesis, the Penn St. Nittany Lions. NU hasn't beaten Penn State since 2007, by far their longest drought against any Big Ten team. In fact, Ed DeChellis' domination of Bill Carmody is perhaps the only reason DeChellis still has his job: entering this season, 10 of his 34 Big Ten wins were against Northwestern, and DeChellis has won eight of the last nine in the series, most memorably sweeping NU last year to knock the 'Cats from the NCAA bubble to the NIT bubble. In fact, Carmody is extremely fortunate he hasn't lost nine in a row; the one NU win in that span (at home in 2007) was largely due to Craig Moore hitting a one-handed 30 foot miracle at the shot clock buzzer down the stretch of a 2 point NU win.
All that being said, Northwestern is more than capable of winning today. Penn State was looking like a bubble team for a while, starting Big Ten play 5-4 with home wins over Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, but they've lost their last three games and would need a miraculous 5-1 finish to Big Ten play to get themselves back in the discussion. A loss today would seal their NCAA fate, and leave them at 12-12 and in grave danger of finishing under .500 and missing the NIT.
Still, Penn State has exceeded expectations this season, largely due to the emergence of forward Jeff Brooks, who's averaged 13.6 points, 7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 59% shooting. He had to miss some time with a shoulder injury, but returned to the lineup Thursday vs. Michigan State and scored 15 points, and he will be tough for NU to deal with. Talor Battle is still the leading scorer and go-to guy; he's capable of putting Penn State on his back and carrying his team to victory, and just as capable of forcing a bunch of horrible shots and chucking his way to defeat. Penn State is at their best when Battle is sharing the ball and getting Brooks, David Jackson and Andrew Jones involved, which I believe to be the reason Penn State did so well vs. NU's1-3-1 last year; that defense forces a team to move the ball and prevents one guy from going into chucker mode. So Carmody would be well-served to stay far away from the 1-3-1. Unfortunately, Penn State will run a lot of pick and roll versus the match-up zone, and given how clueless NU looked against pick and rolls against Michigan, they could be in for a long afternoon.
This afternoon certainly isn't a lost cause though (2011-12 and beyond aren't lost causes either, chill the eff out LTP, did you lose a bet that forced you to make the whiniest, most emo post in the history of NU basketball blogging?); Northwestern is just a 2 point underdog, largely because Penn State has been really bad defensively this season, second worst in the Big Ten per KenPom (NU is worst). And their biggest weakness has been 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot 39.5% from behind the arc, worst of any major conference team and 10th worst in all of Division 1. So if NU can carry over their hot shooting from the second half of the Michigan game, you've gotta like their chances.
Alright, game is at 2:30 central on BTN (beat: Tim Doyle on the color). See you then, and go 'Cats.