Northwestern (11-9, 2-5 B1G) gets a second crack at Penn State (13-7, 3-4) when the Nittany Lions visit Allstate Arena on Saturday afternoon. It’s a matchup between two teams who have both struggled since they last met up two weeks ago. Penn State managed an overtime win over Nebraska, but close losses to Indiana and Minnesota have dropped the Nittany Lions to eighth in the conference standings.
The Minnesota loss stung particularly badly— Penn State tied the game after trailing by 13 points midway through the second half, but the Nittany Lions couldn’t get enough stops down the stretch. Emotions seemed to boil over at the end of the game, as Mike Watkins appeared to push an assistant coach after fouling out in overtime. The loss prompted articles like this, which are never great seven games into your conference schedule.
Mike Watkins, not a good look here pic.twitter.com/dv8yPpIw2b— Alex Bozich (@insidethehall) January 16, 2018
Do-it-all wing Josh Reaves hasn’t played since the Northwestern game because of academic issues and Penn State is struggling defensively without him. The junior leads the team in steals with 2.4 per game, and is fourth on the team in scoring, third in rebounding, and second in assists. Watkins and Lamar Stevens, who combined for 48 points and 22 rebounds against the Wildcats on Jan. 5, are both nursing minor injuries following Monday’s loss to Minnesota, but are expected to play.
Penn State’s dominance in the paint the first time these teams met probably prompted Chris Collins to switch to a 2-3 zone. The defensive scheme has worked well enough in the last three games, and Penn State is a perfect opponent to play zone against. Without one of their best outside shooters in Reaves, Northwestern should feel comfortable focusing on Stevens and Watkins inside.
Of course, the problem for Northwestern has been putting the ball in the basket. Without Reaves, Penn State was able to hold Indiana and Nebraska under 40 percent shooting from the field. Minnesota was able to beat the Nittany Lions behind 10-for-17 three-point shooting. The Wildcats have been awfully reliant on the three-pointer, chucking up 76 in their last three games, but Northwestern’s shooters should be able to get open looks with Reaves sitting out.
Adjusted Ranks (KenPom)
Game Time: 1 p.m. central
Radio: WGN 720
KenPom prediction: 69-68, Northwestern (53% chance of winning)
Betting line: Northwestern -2.5, O/U 139
Last meeting: Penn State 78, Northwestern 63 (1/5/18)