It’s a dangerous time for Northwestern basketball. Already facing a major uphill battle for a return to the NCAA Tournament after a terrible performance in the non-conference portion of their schedule, the Wildcats dropped to 1-2 in Big Ten play with an ugly, disheartening home loss to Nebraska on Tuesday.
With its March Madness (and, honestly, NIT) dreams fading faster than you can say Vic Law, Northwestern now heads to State College, PA to take on a solid Penn State team. The big question mark heading into Friday’s game is the availability of Bryant McIntosh; the senior point guard missed the Nebraska game after hurting his knee against Brown last weekend. However, he did warm up before that game and isn’t expected to be out much longer.
#B1GCats star Bryant McIntosh will not play tonight vs. Nebraska, but he should return next week for sure and possibly on Friday, if all goes well. He shot around before the game.— Louie Vaccher (@WildcatReport) January 3, 2018
If McIntosh is unable to play, Northwestern is in serious trouble. The Wildcats were abysmal on offense without their floor general against the Cornhuskers, shooting 29 percent from the field and generating just 0.89 points per possession. His replacement in the starting lineup, defensive-minded junior Jordan Ash, put up 2 points and 1 assist in 28 minutes.
If McIntosh can give it a go, however, we’ll have an excellent point guard battle on our hands with B-Mac facing off against Penn State’s Tony Carr. One of the Nittany Lions’ talented trio of sophomores, the 6-foot-5 Carr is currently third in the conference in scoring with 18.7 points per game. He can get into the lane and finish or shoot from outside (31-of-61 from three this year), and also leads PSU in assists.
The other two sophomores to know are Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens. Watkins is an impressive big man who averages 12.7 points and 9.0 rebounds but is best known as one of the nation’s premier shot-blockers, turning away 3.4 shots per game. Stevens is a slasher who puts up 14 a night. Beyond that trio, Penn State also starts a pair of experienced wings in Josh Reaves and Shep Garner. Watch out for Garner from beyond the arc; the senior leads the Big Ten in three-point attempts and makes.
Penn State makes its name on defense. Watkins’ presence as a rim-protector is huge, but this is also one of the best teams in the conference at forcing turnovers. You know who’d be helpful against that? Bryant McIntosh.
Adjusted Ranks (KenPom)
|Penn State rank
|Penn State rank
This will be a battle of two teams desperate for a victory. Like Northwestern, Penn State is off to a 1-2 start in conference play after a rough non-con. Pat Chambers’ squad beat bottom-feeding Iowa but has since dropped close games to Wisconsin and Maryland. Continuing the similarities, the Nittany Lions have a couple missed opportunites (losses to Texas A&M, NC State) and one bad loss (Rider), without any impressive wins. Whoever wins this game will have just picked up its best victory of the season.
Northwestern beat Penn State 87-77 on the road last season behind a fast start and 31 points from Scottie Lindsey. If McIntosh remains out tonight, Lindsey might have to go for 40 for the Wildcats to escape with a win.
Game Time: 7 p.m. central
Mobile: FOXSportsGO App
Radio: WGN 720
KenPom prediction: 66-73 (28% chance to win)
Betting Line: Penn State -6.5