Yesterday I compared Penn State to Maryann Forrester from True Blood. I didn't make this comparison because they like to cause random orgies. I made it because on the surface they don't look like much, but they are clearly dangerous when motivated. After home upsets of Michigan State and Illinois, plus a near upset of Ohio State on the road, the Nittany Lions are at least on the edge of NCAA consideration. They have positioned themselves to be in the discussion is they continue to have success in league play while taking advantage of the teams like Iowa and Michigan below them.
This is a game that I kept from my season ticket package, mostly because it looked like one of the biggest home blowouts when the season started, so it didn't sell. Even after demolishing them in Happy Valley, you have to be a little concerned about Penn State when you see how well they have played in the last three games. This is their fifth straight game against a ranked team, and the only one that wasn't close was our 15 point win in Happy Valley.
2009-10 Record: 11-20, 3-15 Big Ten
2010-11 Record: 10-7, 3-3 Big Ten
Postseason Result: None
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 25-10
Last Purdue win: 1/5/2011 83-68 at Penn State
Last Penn State win: 1/6/2009 67-64 at Penn State
Time & TV 8:30pm on Big Ten Network
I will admit that Penn State's three Big Ten wins is about two more than I originally expected. Their conference opening win at Indiana was a surprise, but after seeing how much the Hoosiers have struggled in conjunction with Penn State's improved play it isn't much of a surprise. The wins over Michigan State and Illinois are odd. Penn State probably has the worst home court advantage in the conference in the mausoleum that is the Bryce Jordan Center. It can be intimidating if it is sold out, but they rarely reach even half that. Strangely, Michigan State and Illinois still struggle there. Maybe it comes from the length of the road trip being longer than most trips.
Either way, I appreciate both of Penn State's wins because they help us in the Big Ten race. Assuming we take care of business tonight and finish the sweep, I am definitely on their side to cause as much chaos as possible the rest of the way. With the way Penn State has played since losing to Purdue another 4-6 conference wins are possible. They suffer because they only play Indiana and Iowa once in league play (the two worst teams right now), but if they were to somehow get to .500 in conference play they could be fighting for an NCAA berth. We want that too. Their RPI of 60 is bordering on the golden top 50, therefore giving two more quality victories. They have the schedule strength (10th and rising) to get there if they perform.
A big reason for Penn State's success is the improved play of its supporting cast. You know all about Talor Battle. Jeff Brooks has played very well since conference play started. He had 23 against Indiana and 17 in the upset of Michigan State. He has also been quite the force on the glass, grabbing double-digit rebounds against us, Michigan State, and Illinois. David Jackson has also been improved. He had a season high 19 against Ohio State. Jermaine Marshall is a bit of an oddity. He had 18 points off the bench against us, but he only has 20 points over Penn State's other 16 games combined and he didn't even play in six of them.
One thing I feel confident about is that Penn State threw virtually every defense possible at us, yet we still scored 83 points. Ryne Smith nailing five triples and scoring 20 points certainly helped, but this was a game where we didn't need a huge night from E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson to dominate. Lewis Jackson had 17 points and made it to the line 13 times (something we lacked against West Virginia). Kelsey Barlow also had 10, while Smooge had only four.
One thing that was troubling in both losses during this streak is that we shied away from contact. We shot poorly from the field at Minnesota, but against West Virginia especially we didn't make an effort to get to the free throw line. Drunken Jim Burr was calling plenty of phantom fouls against us, but we weren't even giving him reasons to call them against the Mountaineers. Of course, he is known to be influenced by the home crowd. If we have him tonight I wouldn't be surprised if we had a 15 shot edge from the line.
I also want to see us go away from the Travis Carroll experiment in the starting lineup. It's not that Carroll hasn't played well. I have even liked the minutes we have gotten from Sandi Marcius. I just feel our best starting five right now is LewJack, GDB, Smooge, JJ, and Ryno. The Carroll-JJ combo in the post is good for stretches, but Barlow brings the athleticism we need from an offensive forward with the ability to defend the perimeter we need. I still want to see Carroll and Marcius out there for a combined 20 minutes, just not starting.
Even with the recent setbacks and Penn State's improved play I am still confident about tonight. We're playing at home, we handled them easily two weeks ago, and the matchups go in our favor. Expect the return of good feelings tonight from Purdue basketball.