Previewing Penn State

The Indiana Hoosiers conclude their rocky road season with a trip to State College, Pennsylvania to meet the Nittany Lions Saturday night at 8:00. For IU, a win over the last-place Nittany Lions would put to rest any tournament bubble talk and secure their spot in the field of 64.

The Hoosiers (18-10, 8-7) are coming off a hard fought 74-70 victory over Minnesota on senior night at Assembly Hall. Jeff Newton, in his final home game, saved his best for last as he paced IU with 22 points and 16 rebounds, including 9 offensive rebounds. Bracey Wright also chipped in with 21 pts and six made three-pointers. Penn State lost once again Tuesday night 78-62 to Michigan, dropping their lowly Big Ten record to 1-13. Penn State will have a chance, however, to go out winners at home on their senior night.

These two teams met earlier in the season in their Big Ten opener. IU, ranked #15 at the time, pulled away in the second half and won 78-65. Newton and Wright led four Hoosiers in double figures with 17 points and 12 rebounds while Tom Coverdale chipped in with 14 points and four three pointers. The stats were pretty much similar but the difference in the game was IU's 27 free throw attempts (18-of-27) to Penn State's eight (7-of-8). Penetration and the inside presence of Newton were the keys that spurred the Hoosiers to the victory. A bright spot for the Nittany Lions was Brandon Watkins, who led all scorers with 21 pts on 9-of-18 shooting.

Penn State is lead by Watkins and Sharif Chambliss, who are both leading the team in scoring, averaging 14 points per contest. Chambliss has a pretty soild three point shot, hitting five threes against Michigan and firing at a clip of 37% for the season. Indiana must shadow him, contest every shot, and not allow him to have any open looks. A good three-point shooter loves his home court, and the likely match-up with Coverdale will be one to watch on both ends. Watkins creates his own shots off the dribble and with penetration. The quickness of either Marshall Strickland or Wright on defense will hopefully neutralize this threat. Down low, the Nittany Lions are led by 6-11 Jan Jagla, who is coming off a 15 point 6 rebound performance versus Michigan on Tuesday night. The Hoosiers have had problems all year containing big men down low, especially recently against Iowa (Jarod Reiner: 25 points, 17 rebounds) and Minnesota. IU must keep Jagla and fellow big man Aaron Johnson off the boards, especially on the offensive glass. This sounds like a broken record, but it almost cost the Hoosiers the past two games and the problem must be addressed. Expect 6-11 Robert Summers to play significant minutes because of IU's inability to rebound the ball.

One key to the game is the play of the other big men not named Jeff Newton. Leach has been downright bad the past few games. His number one approach to the game should be defense. Leach should not worry about offense. Wright, Coverdale, Newton and others are more than enough weapons. He needs to step up rebounding and playing adequate defense. Also, whatever happened to Sean Kline? He wasn't the next coming of Patrick Ewing, but his playing time is way down. Kline, who brings somewhat of a physical presence, is at least an improvement over Mike Roberts. This is IU's Achilles heal. A solid showing for the big guys against a lesser team will do wonders leading into the NCAA tourney.

Another key is building upon the offensive performances of the past few games. Newton has been unstoppable down low when matched one-on-one as opposed to shooting from the outside where his percentages tumble. Working the offense through him every time will allow Newt to find a rhythm and open up three point shots. Kyle Hornsby has seemed to find his shot a little better after hitting a pair of clutch three in the second half against Minnesota. Coach Mike Davis seemed to like what he saw as Hornsby got the majority of the minutes late over Strickland. Could have been a senior night reward, but Hornsby getting into a groove could land him significantly more minutes.

Lastly, the size of the game for IU should be important enough. With the win over Minnesota, it would appear the Hoosiers have locked up a tourney bid. But a win over Penn State could erase all doubts and improve their seeding. A win here and a few in the Big Ten tournament could make IU anywhere from a 7-10 seed, a drastic improvement from the 12th seed many analysts predict for the Hoosiers if the season ended today. Indiana's momentum is heading in the right direction after some home cooking, but a loss could erase the tidal wave of good hope and send the Hoosiers spiraling. Besides a fluke win over Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions are 1-13 in conference play. If IU cannot beat a 1-13 conference foe to lock up a tournament bid, then how do they expect to beat a qualified NCAA tournament team? Road woes have plagued the Hoosiers all season. It is time to put up or shut up versus a team that has inferior talent. Getting the ball low to Newton inside as much as possible, limiting Penn State's offensive rebounds, and maintaining momentum going into the Big Ten tournament should be more than enough to overpower Penn State Saturday night.

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