by Luke Srodulski (@lukeysrodulski)
“That’s not what we play for,” Dave Sobolewski said after the 63-53 loss to Ohio State. “We played a lot better than we have been, but we didn’t win.”
Moral victories mean nothing anymore. What the Wildcats need is a win on the scoreboard. And against Penn State, it is the first time in quite a while where they’re expected to get one.
Northwestern is still on a six-game losing streak since Jared Swopshire’s knee injury, but things are looking up after they took the Buckeyes down to the wire. They ended their streak of three consecutive 20-point losses and showed that they won’t back down from the Big Ten’s best.
Now, the Nittany Lions, who have not won a true road game all season, come into Evanston looking to exact revenge for a 70-54 loss to the Wildcats on Jan. 10. It’s hard to dispute that Penn State has gotten better since then, and Northwestern has gotten worse, but the ‘Cats will still be expected by most to pull out a win. If they could do that on the seniors' last game at Welsh-Ryan, it would be a big boost heading to Michigan State and the Big Ten Tournament.
Since they last met
The double-digit defeat to Northwestern was one of several that the Nittany Lions endured early in the conference schedule. Since then, they have rebounded to show spurts of promise that have been encouraging for the team and its fans. They strung together three straight games where they seriously threatened Iowa, Michigan, and Illinois.
When they met Michigan again, they finally broke throught. Sparked by what was clearly their best performance from the outside all season (10/20 3FG), they were able to pull the 84-78 upset and shock the Wolverines.
The magic didn’t last, and they were thrashed 73-44 in their next contest against Minnesota. The streaky shooters cooled down to 27 percent from the field and the offense was unrecognizable compared to the game before.
Who to watch: Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill
Since point guard Tim Frazier went down four games into the season, it’s been all about the 6-foot-4 swingmen. They are volume shooters who have combined for 31.1 points per game and almost half of their team’s shots on the year.
Marshall is the three-point threat of the two. He’s shooting just 34 percent from beyond the arc, but he is definitely a streaky shooter, so the Wildcats have to prevent him from getting hot early. He hit 6-of-10 threes against Michigan because he got open looks early and found a groove.
Newbill is more of a slasher and attacker. He drives to the basket relentlessly and gets to the line very often as a result. With this mindset comes a little recklessness, which has led him to turn the ball over almost four turnovers per game.
Together, the tandem of Marshall and Newbill are clearly the go-to guys for Penn State. The Wildcats should focus on defending them early, because if they struggle in the opening minutes, chances are they’ll have a tough time finding a rhythm later on. If they can be held to their combined average of 39 percent shooting from the field, Northwestern will give itself a great chance to come away with a win.
Prediction: Northwestern 65, Penn State 60
Last time these two played, the Nittany Lions made Northwestern’s offense look as good as it has all season. They found open looks from three and dismantled Penn State on their home floor.
Should the Wildcats be able to hold their own on the glass like they did against Ohio State, they should be fine. Penn State shoots too poorly to be able to win without second chances, so if they aren’t red hot from long range, it’s going to be tough for them to come away with a victory.