I know I have said that nothing is easy in this conference, but the teams that lose to Penn State this year will likely be the teams that have little chance of competing for an NCAA berth, much less the conference title. Tonight's game is one of those games that counts as a conference win, but since almost everyone else will likely beat them, a loss is much more damaging. With Iowa now turning the corner from "likely win" to "legitimately dangerous team", that leaves only Penn State and Nebraska as the two teams camping out at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
Of course, we cannot assume anything. An 8-7 team that lost virtually everything from last year's run to the NCAA Tournament is one of the few road opponents in this league that we can feel relatively safe against, especially since they don't exactly have a distinct home court advantage.
2011-12 record: 8-7, 0-2 Big Ten
2010-11 record: 19-15, 9-9 Big Ten, lost to Temple 66-64 in NCAA 1st round
Blog Representation: Black Shoe Diaries
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 26-10
Last Purdue win: 63-62 on 1/19/2011 at Purdue (Purdue has won six straight)
Last Penn State win: 67-64 on 1/6/2009 at Penn State
Last season's perfect mark at home was very nearly blemished by Penn State. Before the Nittany Lions went on their late run to the NCAA Tournament they came to Mackey Arena and scared the bejesus out of us before JaJuan Johnson knocked home the game winner in the closing seconds. The win in Happy Valley was much more impressive, as it featured Ryne Smith playing the role of The Rifleman. Ryno was 5 for 5 from long range in that game. That is accuracy that would make Chuck Connors quite proud, and if Chuck Connors can help end the Cold War that's good enough for Ryno.
Hopefully we won't need some JJ-esque heroics tonight, but Ryno dialing it up from long range would be nice. This year's Penn State team is basically Tim Frazier... and that's really it. If Indiana's win over Kentucky is the conference's marquee non-conference win, the Nittany Lions' 85-47 loss to Kentucky should show you just how far off Penn State really is. They did help the conference with a win over Boston College in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but losses to Duquesne, Lafayette, and St. Joseph's are not good.
The conference season has started with a two game road losing streak at Michigan and Northwestern, making tonight their home conference opener. As we have seen in the past when we play Penn State before the students return, that is not exactly an advantage. Their last game at home was a 74-67 win over the Fightin' Andy Bernards of Cornell.
Penn State simply lacks a lot of talent offensively. Frazier averages 17.3 points per game, but he is the only player that averages in double figures. When they average 63 points per game, that means 1 in 4 of their points come from Frazier. If we slow him down, that further limits their offensive capacity. Jermaine Marshall is close to double figures at 9.8 per game, followed by Cammeron Woodyard at 8.2 per game. Billy Oliver and Trey Lewis are hitting at better than 6 points per game.
Like Talor Battle of years past, Frazier is their leader in the other main categories as well. He averages 5.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists per contest, making him one of the conference's most versatile players. Unfortunately for them like in a few of Battle's years, his supporting cast is very limited. Frazier is a bit of a thief at 2.2 steals per game as well.
The only player with any size that plays is Sasa Borovnjak at 6'9", so our big should have another chance to dominate. In fact, if they can limit Meyers Leonard quite effectively, they can handle Borovnjak's 5.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
I'm not going to lie. I would be severely disappointed if we don't win this game with ease. Penn State simply does not have the offensive firepower to really compete in the Big Ten this year. Sure, they may steal a game or two against someone, but our goal should be to avoid becoming that someone. They shoot a meager 39% from the field and 31.3% from long range. They aren't even good from the free throw line at only 63%. Out of 344 Division I teams they rank 317th in field goal percentage, and that is before facing our lockdown defense.
We should expect a win tonight, as a loss would be a major step back after our defensive performance on Saturday.