Thursday, February 24th, 8 p.m. CT.
Northwestern is hoping to catch fire at the right time, and a win against Penn State is the next step. The Wildcats have won two-consecutive wins, and are looking to take that streak to three with a win against the 14-12 Nittany Lions.
In their first matchup on Feb. 13th, the Wildcats saw first-hand how dangerous Penn State can be. The Nittany Lions routed Northwestern, 65-41. In recent history, Penn State has owned the Wildcats, winning the last-seven matchups.
Penn State is led by senior point guard Talor Battle, who averages 20.8 points per game. In the 2010-11 season, Battle has finished with double-figure scoring in 25 of their 26 games. Battle has scored more than 2,000 points as a Nittany Lion, and has solidified his place as one of the best to ever play in the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Wildcats have their own point guard who is looking to make a bit of history on Thursday night. Senior Michael Thompson will break the school record for most games played with 122. In addition, Thompson has started all 122 of those games, giving him the fourth-longest active streak in the nation.
Juice Thompson has carried the Wildcats lately. In Northwestern's matchup with Iowa one week ago, Thompson finished with 16 points, and Thompson led the way on Saturday with 22 points against Indiana.
Those two games were a nice recovery for Thompson after a game which he struggled, coming in Northwestern's first game with Penn State. Thompson finished with nine points, and was 4-11 from the field, coming in a game where the Wildcats shot 18-52 from the field.
Simply put, that was a game to forget for the Wildcats.
The Northwestern offense averages 73.1 points per game, but was held to just 41 in that first matchup. On Thursday, the Wildcats look to get revenge on Penn State, but it will take a much better performance to beat the tough Nittany Lions.
G: #22 Michael Thompson (5-10, 190) 14.8 PPG
G: #23 Jershon Cobb (6'5, 180) 8.2 PPG
F: #1 Drew Crawford (6'5, 205) 12.5 PPG
F: #23 John Shurna (6'8, 215) 17.3 PPG
C: #12 Luka Mirkovic (6'11, 248) 8.3 PPG
LAST TIME OUT:
Saturday night in Bloomington was the Juice Thompson show. The senior point guard finished with 22 points and shot 11-11 from the free throw line, and helped the Wildcats to a 70-64 win over the Indiana Hoosiers.
LAST NU-PENN STATE MATCHUP:
In their first matchup of the season, Penn State completely shut down Northwestern's high-octane offense. The Wildcats scored just 41 points, including 15 in the first half, and lost 65-41.
KEY PLAYER FOR THE WILDCATS: Juice Thompson
No surprise on this pick, the Wildcats need Juice Thompson to bring his A+ game. Northwestern's offense goes as their senior point guard does, and the ‘Cats need Thompson to bring another stellar performance.
Thompson has been spectacular recently, and has been a huge factor in the past two games, both Wildcat wins.
Northwestern often relies on a big offensive performance from their point guard, but they will need an extra boost on defense to shut down Talor Battle. It will be Thompson's job to contain the Nittany Lion star point guard, so the spotlight will be on that matchup.
KEY PLAYER FOR THE NITTANY LIONS: Talor Battle
As mentioned already, Talor Battle is the key a Penn State win. Battle is a likely All-Big Ten selection, and is one of the most-decorated players in Penn State basketball history.
The senior point guard averages 20.8 points per game, putting him 15th in the nation and first in the Big Ten.
If the Wildcats can keep Battle quiet, then Penn State will have a very tough time scoring. Of course, that's easier said than done.
KEY FOR A WILDCAT WIN: Careful possessions
Don't be the slightest bit surprised if Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis pulled out the game film from the first Northwestern-Penn State matchup. The Nittany Lions completely embarrassed Northwestern's high-octane offense. DeChellis would be crazy if he didn't try that exact same defensive gameplan.
If Northwestern wants Thursday to go differently, they need to value each offensive possession. Simply put, they need to avoid turnovers, make smart passes, and take smart shots.
Scoring catastrophes like what happened in University Park are an anomaly for the Wildcats. Penn State played an incredible game on defense, and Northwestern's offense was horrible. However, Thursday is a new game and a new chance to beat the Nittany Lions.