The #13 ranked Nittany Lions (20-6) had won eight straight before Tuesday’s loss at home against Illinois. Penn State is now two games out of the conference lead with five games to go.
What happened last week?
Last Saturday, Penn State hosted the first of two meetings this season with Northwestern. Coming into the game heavy favorites and winners of seven straight, this was as good of a matchup a Big 10 team could hope for late in the season. Myles Dread hit the go-ahead three with around 13 minutes to go in the first half and Penn State never looked back from there.
Despite the clear interior scoring mismatches for Penn State, the Nittany Lions went 11-31 from deep, as the focus of the Northwestern defense appeared to push Penn State towards this strategy. It worked out for Penn State as Lamar Stevens still managed to have a solid game, going 8-17 for 23 points and pulling down a game-high seven rebounds.
Penn State had a very average night overall, resulting in shooting averages around their season numbers, as well as a rebounding advantage (+4) along the same season differential. Northwestern actually shot fairly well from the field (47%) but only managed to go 2-14 from deep. The Wildcats were simply outpaced in this game and failed to make an impact to disrupt Penn State.
Tuesday was a big game against an Illinois team losing their grip on a bid for March. Illinois absolutely needed this game to stay alive for an at-large bid in the tournament. Illinois had lost four straight games heading into the matchup, though they didn’t exactly play poorly over that stretch.
The Fighting Illini were simply hitting the hardest stretch of their schedule. On Tuesday, Penn State trailed for most of the game as crafty ball movement from Illinois allowed them to steadily control most of the game. The Nittany Lions had a spurt in the second half, but Illinois never really slowed down offensively and seemed to solve any defensive adjustments Penn State threw at them.
It wasn’t as if Illinois was killing Penn State offensively. The Illini only shot 44% from the field, 30% from deep, and 61% from the line. Penn State just couldn’t shoot the ball (36% from the field and 21% from three. The game turned into a grind and Illinois just kept coming up with key rebounds, winning the battle of the boards (+7). Penn State limited turnovers (7) and won the turnover battle (+6), but it simply wasn’t enough to overcome their lack of tenacity and precision. Lamar Stevens and Myles Dread combined to go 4-19 from the field and no one else was really stepping in and taking the reins on offense. Though it was a disappointing loss, Penn State has five days to regroup before Sunday against Indiana.
The Penn State basketball schedule so far
NOV 5 (W) – MD Eastern 84-46
NOV 9 (W) – Wagner 91-64
NOV 14 (W) – Georgetown 81-66
NOV 19 (W) – Bucknell 98-70
NOV 23 (W) – Yale 58-56
NOV 27 (L) – Ole Miss 74-72
NOV 29 (W) – Syracuse 85-64
DEC 4 (W) – Wake Forest 76-54
DEC 7 (L) – Ohio State 106-74
DEC 10 (W) – Maryland 76-69
DEC 14 (W) – Alabama 73-71
DEC 20 (W) – Central Connecticut St 87-58
DEC 29 (W) – Cornell 90-59
JAN 4 (W) – Iowa 89-86
JAN 7 (L) – Rutgers 72-61
JAN 11 (L) – Wisconsin 58-49
JAN 15 (L) – Minnesota 75-69
JAN 18 (W) – Ohio State 90-76
JAN 22 (W) – Michigan 72-63
JAN 29 (W) – Indiana 64-49
FEB 1 (W) – Nebraska 76-64
FEB 4 (W) – Michigan State 75-70
FEB 8 (W) – Minnesota 83-77
FEB 11 (W) – Purdue 88-76
FEB 15 (W) – Northwestern 77-61
FEB 18 (L) – Illinois 62-56
Preview for Next Week
This Sunday, Penn State will be facing Indiana at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. Indiana should be slight favorites as they’re also vying for an at-large bid to the tournament. I expect this to be a very close game as Penn State is only slightly better in most major areas across the board. Indiana has a slightly higher shooting percentage, but if you go by the numbers and where these teams’ strengths are, they’re very comparable, position by position. It should be a very close game.
This coming Wednesday, Penn State will host Rutgers. Early in January, Rutgers beat Penn State by 11 in New Jersey, which sparked a three-game slide for the Nittany Lions. In their first matchup, Rutgers out-shot Penn State, dominated them on the boards (+7), and won the turnover battle (+3).
Every Rutgers starter had at least five rebounds. Myles Dread single-handedly kept Penn State in the game, going for 21 points on 5-10 from three, but no one else was effective. This time around, Penn State is going to need to be extremely aggressive on the boards and less careless with the ball.
Penn State’s odds to make the Final Four are still +650
Odds for Penn State to make the Final Four via PlaySugarHouse the same as they were a week ago. Penn State isn’t some disrespected team worthy of additional praise. They are who they are and at this point, they’re going to need to be aggressive on the boards and continue to play smart basketball if they want to make a run in the tournament. As we went over last week, here is their game by game odds for the tournament at their current #5 seed projection:
In the last week, nothing has really changed for Penn State, but there’s a decent chance some chaos creeps in if Penn State can stay alive in the tournament. The odds above are based on a chalk scenario, so it’s worth noting their odds can really only get shorter with some bracket shakeups. At this point, +650 is still a solid line.