Northwestern (11-2) opens Big Ten play with a trip to State College to take on Penn State (8-5) on Tuesday. After narrowly escaping an upset bid from Houston Baptist on Thursday night, the Wildcats extended their winning streak to eight consecutive games, the second-longest win streak in Coach Chris Collins’ tenure.
Penn State comes into this game on its own two game win streak, but the team struggled in non-conference play. The Nittany Lions have amassed a few decent wins against George Washington, Georgia Tech, and St. John’s, but also some tough losses to Albany and George Mason. Perhaps its most impressive performance is a 10-point loss to Duke back in November. Penn State is ranked 87th in RPI and 96thth in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.
The Nittany Lions can get offense from several sources. They have five players averaging double digits per game, and three of them are freshmen. Junior point guard Shep Garner averages 14.6 points per game and has scored in double digits 12 times this season. Fellow junior Payton Banks is shooting over 40-percent from three and takes them with plenty of confidence — he averages seven attempts per game. Banks is a huge weapon off the bench for Penn State.
The trio of freshmen — Lamar Stevens, Tony Carr, and Mike Watkins (redshirt freshman) — are very talented. They were all four-star recruits from Philadelphia. Carr, Stevens, and another freshman Nazeer Bostick all played together at Roman Catholic High School together where they won consecutive Class AAAA state championships. Carr, at 6-foot-3, is more of a distributor than Garner. He’s an extremely athletic, shifty guard that can do a little bit of everything, and comes in averaging 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game.
The 6-foot-7 Stevens and 6-foot-9 Watkins are tough matchups for Northwestern, who will most likely be without Dererk Pardon yet again. Stevens is a little raw, but he’s been effective so far. He’s averaging 12.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and a block per game. Watkins isn’t the tallest guy, but he’s a big presence in the paint. Offensively, he’s averaging 10.5 points per game. Defensively, he’s averaging 3.3 blocks per game and has an absurd 13.6 block percentage, good for eight in the country. He also averages 8.4 rebounds, a result of a really impressive 25.6 defensive rebound percentage.
Penn State runs a very up-tempo offense, so expect them to try to get their offense going in transition: They average just 14.8 seconds per possession. Northwestern split with Penn State last year, and in the Big Ten, nothing comes easy. This should be a good first test for the Wildcats, who play four of its first five conference games on the road.
Game time: 2 p.m. CT
TV channel: ESPN2
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Radio: WGN 720 AM
Betting line: NU -2