There has been much hilarity this morning, preventing me from working on the Penn State preview. First, you have Mark Titus and his special brand of jockularity. It is unfortunate the guy's career may be over, but if he does come back to Indianapolis after graduation I know of a church league he can play in.
Second, you have this, found on the intarwebz by Mrs. T-Mill. It is something the sports marketing department definitely needs to think about for our next Ross-Ade entrance video:
He blew up the earth! To quote The Tick, that's where I keep all my stuff!
Seriously, does it get any better than a polar bear in a fighter jet that can blow up the entire earth?
What does this have to do with Penn State basketball? Absolutely nothing. It is basically an excuse to share some funny stuff with you readers. As for tomorrow's game, there is no excuse for us to lose it. When you're on the short list of teams for the Final Four you simply cannot lose at home to winless teams in conference play.
2009-10 record: 8-12, 0-8 Big Ten
2008-09 record: 27-11, 10-8 Big Ten (won NIT)
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 22-10
Last Purdue win: 3/13/09 at Conseco Fieldhouse 79-65
Last Penn State win: 1/6/09 at Penn State 67-64
Clearly, last season was a much better season for Penn State. A 10-8 record in the Big Ten was not good enough to get the Nittany Lions into the NCAA Tournament even though they won at Michigan State and beat Purdue at home. A late loss at Iowa was probably the difference maker there, as was a loss to Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament. I am not going to disparage their NIT win, however. Yes, it was not a national championship, but they got the job done and won a pretty tough tournament. I commend them for doing only what they could do.
This season has been a virtual disaster from the beginning with only Talor Battle being a consistently good player. In a preseason tournament at Charleston, South Carolina they lost games to UNC-Wilmington and Tulane. They also lost at Temple and at home to Virginia Tech. Their best win so far was likely the 69-66 win at Virginia because it allowed the Big Ten to win the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Other than that, Penn State has beaten no one.
In Big Ten play, Penn State has only been close to a win twice. They lost by one at Illinois and three at Iowa. To make matters worse, they only play Indiana and Iowa once, and they have lost both games already. The Nittany Lions are a legitimate threat to go 0-18 in the Big Ten. They have just five home games remaining against Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue, Northwestern, and Ohio State. My gut says they pull off one game at home to avoid the 0-fer, but I really don't know who it would come against.
As mentioned, Penn State is basically Talor Battle and no one else. Battle is a great player on an awful team. He averages 19.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. He leads the conference in scoring, is one of its best 3-point shooters, and is in the top 10 in assists. Sadly, he leads Penn State by a large margin in nearly every category. It is never a good thing when you 6' tall point guard is your leading rebounder.
That is not to say Penn State is a bad rebounding team. They actually rank fourth in the conference as a team and they average nearly 12 offensive rebounds per game. When you shoot 43% from the field it leads to a lot of rebounds though. That is what makes Penn State's struggles so perplexing. In looking at the numbers, they are in the middle of the conference in nearly every statistical category. They just don't score enough, averaging 66 points per game and ranking ahead of only Iowa in that category.
Outside of Battle, there is no consistent scoring threat. 6'5" sophomore guard Chris Babb is second in scoring at 8.6 per game, but he is inconsistent. He had 18 this week against Illinois, but didn't score at Iowa a few weeks ago. David Jackson (8.5 ppg), a 6'7" forward, is the same way. 6'8 junior forward Jeff Brooks (7 ppg) is the only other player that averages better than six per night.
One caveat for Penn State is that it has a very young team. Battle, Stanley Pringle, and Jamelle Cornley were the heart and soul of this team last year and everyone else did very little. The Nittany Lions now do not have a single senior on their roster, and no depth was developed to replace the 27 points per game that Cornley and Pringle took with them when they graduated. It is really a worse situation than two years ago when they had Geary Claxton. At least Claxton had Cornley and Battle for help. Battle this year has nothing.
That is why this should be an easy win. We have had a habit recently of giving up 20+ points to an unexpected source. Jordan Taylor, Keaton Nankivil, Demetri McCamey, Zack Novak, and Jason Bohannon have had career nights against us of late. Who will it be in this game? Will it be Tim Frazier, who is shooting 43% from 3-point range but only averages 5.7 points per game? It is disturbing that we have been known for our perimeter defense, while teams are shooting a Big Ten best 37.2% from long range against us. To make matters worse, we're only better than Michigan at shooting the three ourselves. That tells me that if we ever figure out how to defend the three and hit it ourselves we will be even more dangerous.
For Penn State to win they will have to have a tremendous game from battle and get unexpected contributions from everyone else. In that regard, I say we just concentrate on guarding the other four players on the floor. Let's dare Battle to pull an Iverson and score 50 to beat us by himself. My money says it won't happen. It is nice to have a game where we should be able to work on things that need tweaking rather than pushing really hard to win.
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Limit contributions outside of Battle
- Work on defending the perimeter
- They rebound by committee, so boxing out is critical
- Get Lewis Jackson back into the flow of the game
- Dare Battle to beat us single-handedly
Purdue 77, Penn State 62