Penn State, like Wisconsin, has a 12-1 record and suffered its only loss to Charlotte in double overtime. During the Nittany Lions’ nonconference schedule, Penn State only played two teams (USC and Virginia Tech) from the power five conferences, winning both of those games by an average of 2.5 points.
Despite the lack of substance on the schedule, Penn State always plays teams tough, evident by the sub-.500 Nittany Lions losing 71-66 to a top-15 Wisconsin team last season.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they strive for a sixth straight win and open Big Ten play on the right foot.
Lay up: Starting the game strong
Wisconsin shot 31.3 percent from the field in the first half against Buffalo, which will have to change against a Penn State team that tends to create offensive problems for UW. Despite Wisconsin winning the last five games over Penn State by 6.6 points, the Nittany Lions have held the Badgers to 40.7 percent from the field on an average of 50.6 shot attempts. Wisconsin has shot 30 percent (35.4 and 38.6 percent) from the field twice in that span against Penn State.
With the Badgers shooting poorly in the first half against Buffalo, the Badgers are going to have to come out like they did in the second half against the Bulls to help create separation. This could be one of Bo Ryan’s most efficient offensive teams, as they are shooting 48.3 percent from the field. Just like the game against Buffalo, Frank Kaminsky will need to be able to establish the low post in order to help open up the rest of the offense. Wisconsin averaged 31.1 points in the paint during nonconference play, and Kaminsky has been one of the reasons why.
Kaminsky should be able to have success keeping the Badgers as a threat in the paint against Penn State, although Penn State starts Jordan Dickerson, who averages 1.4 blocks per game, has recorded a block in seven games and had a season-high six blocks against George Washington.
Despite Dickerson being able to block shots, Kaminsky’s aggressiveness can get Dickerson into trouble, as he’s averaging three fouls a game. In four of the last five games, Dickerson has registered at least three fouls. Dickerson on the bench will result in Penn State losing some size on the court, which will continue to help open opportunities for either Kaminsky or his teammates.
Mid-range jumper: Who can win the turnover battle?
Penn State has been good on defense this year by causing its opponents into coughing the basketball 12.2 times a game. At the same time they haven’t done that good job of taking care of the basketball, as the Nittany Lions turn the ball over 13.2 times a game. Having a minus-one margin in turnovers, Penn State ranks last in the conference in turnover margin.
Penn State’s struggles taking care of the ball play into a strength of Wisconsin so far this year. The Badgers have been consistent this year forcing their opponents into 12.5 turnovers a game. D.J. Newbill and Brandon Taylor are both averaging 2.4 turnovers a game. Wisconsin is averaging 5.9 steals a game with Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson being one and two on the team in steals, averaging 1.2 and 1.1 a game respectively. UW averages 16.3 points off team turnovers.
Wisconsin also leads the Big Ten in fewest turnovers at 8.6 a game. Most importantly, when Wisconsin does turn the ball over, they don’t let opponents capitalize on opportunities. Only allowing teams to convert its miscues into 6.5 points a game, Wisconsin has only allowed Georgetown to reach double digits in points off turnovers, as the Hoyas turned a season-high 14 UW turnovers into 17 points.
If the UW defense can remain aggressive without drawing fouls they should be able to force Newbill or Taylor into mistakes. If Wisconsin can do that, it will help the Badgers take control of the game early.
3-pointer: Slowing down D.J. Newbill
Newbill (pictured above) has been the most consistent scorer in the Big Ten this season, leading the league with 21.4 points per game. Newbill has scored in double figures every game this year and has scored 20 or more points in seven of Penn State’s 13 games.
The Badgers have had trouble slowing Newbill down in his career. In Newbill’s last three games against Wisconsin, he has averaged 19 points a game, including two 20-point games in the last two outings against UW. Penn State has relied on Newbill in his career to carry them against Wisconsin, as he averages 37.6 minutes and has shot 43.1 percent from the field. Even though Newbill has had success against Wisconsin, he has needed a minimum of 15 shots to get there, including two games where he attempted 20 shots.
Senior Josh Gasser will draw the assignment of Newbill and will need to take away Newbill’s ability to drive or ability to create space where he can knock down a shot from mid-range and beyond. Newbill is shooting 47 percent from the field on 15.2 shot attempts, 39.3 percent from three and 78.7 percent from the free throw line.
Gasser can’t be the only one to try and slow Newbill down, as the Badgers need to rely on the other four defenders to cut off passing lanes for Newbill, who leads the team with 3.2 assists. Good team defense can make the Penn State’s life difficult on offense, leading to turnovers, rushed possessions or force shots. Accomplishing that should help UW’s defensive trend of holding opponents below their scoring average, as only three of Wisconsin opponents have topped 60 points or more. Achieving that will begin with Gasser and what he can do against Newbill.