Breakdown: Penn State vs. No.4 Wisconsin

After the road teams dominated day one of the Big Ten conference action, No.4 Wisconsin looks to restore home-court advantage when the Badgers open their quest for a regular season conference title when they host pesky Penn State at the Kohl Center Wednesday afternoon. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup.

Penn State (12-1, 0-0 Big Ten) vs. No.4 Wisconsin (12-1, 0-0 Big Ten)

Date/Time -Wednesday, December 31, 12 p.m. Central

Arena –Kohl Center (17,279)

Television -Big Ten Network ((Cory Provus & Stephen Bardo)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Phil Dawson and Andy North)

Series – Wisconsin leads 31-10 (UW leads 17-2 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 71-66, on March 2, 2014 in State College, PA

Wisconsin Probable Starters

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 11.9 ppg)

12 Traevon Jackson (6-3 Senior Guard, 8.8 ppg)

15 Sam Dekker (6-9 Junior Forward, 12.1 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-4 Senior Guard, 7.0 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (7-0 Senior Forward, 16.5 ppg)

Off the Bench

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 3.1 ppg)

13 Duje Dukan (6-10 Senior Forward, 6.5 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 4.8 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Sophomore Guard, 4.0 ppg)

Penn State Probable Starters

2 D.J. Newbill (6-4 Senior Guard 21.4 ppg)

10 Brandon Taylor (6-2 Junior Forward, 10.6 ppg)

32 Jordan Dickerson (7-1 Junior Center, 2.5 ppg)

33 Shep Garner (6-1 Freshman Guard, 9.7 ppg)

43 Ross Travis (6-6 Senior Forward, 5.1 ppg)

Off the Bench

1 John Johnson (6-1 Senior Forward, 6.8 ppg)

5 Donovon Jack (6-9 Junior Forward, 4.7 ppg)

13 Geno Thorpe (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 8.9 ppg)

Last Meeting

Nothing is supposed to come easy in the Big Ten, but No.14 Wisconsin is making its finishing push look pretty spectacular.

Josh Gasser scored a team-high 15 points, one of three Badgers in double figures, as Wisconsin outlasted Penn State, 71-66, at the Bryce Jordan Center for UW’s seventh straight win and fifth straight road victory.

The victory guarantees another top four finish in the Big Ten for Wisconsin (24-5, 11-5 Big Ten), tying them with Purdue (1920-32) for 13 consecutive top four finishes in the conference. The Badgers have never finished lower than fourth with Bo Ryan at the helm and approve to 11-2 away from home, a new program record.

The Badgers led virtually the entire game – only trailing for 1 minute, 52 seconds in the first half – and used a balanced offense that had at least five players contribute nine points or more.

Although trailing by as many as 10 points in the second half, Penn State (14-15, 5-11) mounted multiple comebacks, closing the lead to one possession four times in the second half, the last coming with 18 seconds left at 66-64.

Traevon Jackson and Gasser iced the game from there, as Jackson went 4-for-4 from the line and Gasser went 1 of 2 with the game already decided.

“The way they had been playing, we knew this was going to be a dogfight,” said Ryan. “I really got to give all our guys credit. They handle all the runs Penn State made. They handled it, made the free throws at the end and if you are going to beat a team like this on their home floor you’ve got to do that.”

The starting backcourt of Gasser, Ben Brust (14) and Jackson (13) combined for 42 of Wisconsin’s 71 points and the Badgers went 19-for-24 from the free throw line, compared to 9-for-13 from Penn State.

Last Time Out

MADISON - It was a game befitting of the challenging journey the University of Wisconsin is about to embark on, one its players hope ends with the school’s first regular season Big Ten title in seven years.

A grinding, physical affair that looked more like a February conference game than the final tune-up before conference play, senior All-American Frank Kaminsky carried No.6 Wisconsin through an ugly first half and kept the Badgers afloat long enough for the shooting to catch on to slip past Buffalo, 68-56, Sunday night at the Kohl Center.

“We knew what exactly what they had coming in, how they were going to play,” said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. “They were more aggressive to the loose balls in the first half … I think this was a very good game to get ready for the Big Ten.”

Kaminsky scored 14 of his game-high 25 points in the opening session for the Badgers (12-1), who scratched out their best RPI victory of the season despite shooting only 42.4 percent from the floor, 30 percent from 3-point range and having junior Sam Dekker (13 points) being the only other UW player in double figures.

Kaminsky added 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season and added six blocks to help the Badgers win their 51st consecutive nonconference games against unranked teams.

With Wisconsin’s Big Ten opener less than three days away (hosting Penn State at noon CT on New Year’s Eve), the Badgers weren’t able to coast against the Bulls (7-3) in UW’s nonconference finale until the final minutes.

Shooting only 31.3 percent in the first 20 minutes, Wisconsin missed 13 of 14 shots at one point and were 6-for-22 before Traevon Jackson’s jumper at 8:53.

Rated No.30 in the RPI, the Bulls shot 40.7 percent and led the Badgers by as many as six points late in the first half and 27-26 at halftime. Playing its seventh true road game of its nonconference season and unintimidated by the less-than-full Kohl Center, Buffalo had its second halftime lead against a top-10 opponent this season (led No.1 Kentucky, 38-33, in Lexington Nov.16).

But just like when the Wildcats started the second half on a 9-0 run that eventually led them to a 71-52 victory, the Badgers found their shooting touch by making six of their first eight shots and scored 13 points on seven possessions to start second half.

Scoreless at halftime, Hayes facilitated the offense with a personal 7-0 run that eventually ballooned into a 13-0 UW run. Dekker also got things going after a scoreless first half, converting off an offensive rebound for his first points at 13:33 and started splashing 3-pointers minutes later, hitting three perimeter shots in an eight possession span.

The scoreless first-half duo combined for 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting in the second half.

-Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Series Notes

Wisconsin has won the last five meetings and 18 of 20, but the last 10 meetings in the series have been decided by an average of 6.6 points.

The Badgers have 16 straight home games against Penn State, including a perfect 13-0 record at the Kohl Center. UW is 17-2 overall at home against PSU. The Lions’ last win in Madison was a 78-67 win at the UW Field House on Jan. 26, 1995.

Bo Ryan, a native of Chester, Pa. is 19-4 vs. Penn State all-time, including 10-0 at home.

UW has won 19 straight games vs. PSU when scoring at least 60 points, going 18-0 in such games under Bo Ryan.

Ryan’s 19-4 record against Penn State is tied for his best winning percentage against any of the Big Ten team (also 19-4 against Indiana).

Penn State's last win over the Badgers came in the 2011 Big Ten Tournament en route to the tourney championship game, a 36-33 decision. The last win in Madison was Jan. 26, 1995, a 78-67 PSU decision.

D.J. Newbill is the leading scorer in the series with Wisconsin, producing 19.0 ppg through three meetings. Seven players on the current roster have faced the Badgers, with four -- Newbill, Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor and Donovon Jack -- seeing time in Madison.

Wisconsin Notes

Since Bo Ryan took over, Wisconsin has won five Big Ten titles - three regular season, two tournament (only Ohio State has more since 2002) and owns the top record in conference games, going 156-66 (.703).

Last year, the Badgers finished off their 14th-consecutive season with a winning conference record. In 108 years of Big Ten basketball, only one school has a longer streak of continuous success (Purdue, 16 years, 1972-88).

Wisconsin has never finished lower than 4th in the Big Ten standings under Ryan. UW’s active streak of 13 consecutive seasons in the Big Ten’s top 4 is tied for the longest in league history (Purdue, 1920-32).

This year UW is averaging 73.5 points per game and ranks 12th in the nation in offensive efficiency, averaging 1.17 points per possession.

This season, the Badgers have had 11 or fewer turnovers in all but one of their games. UW is currently 2nd in the nation, averaging a mere 8.6 turnovers per game.

Penn State Notes

The 12 non-conference wins are the most for the Nittany Lions in program history, breaking the previous high of 11 set during the 2008-09 season. In the Big Ten era, Penn State was undefeated in conference play in 1995-96 (9-0) and had one-loss seasons in 2000-01 (9-1) and 1994-95 (8-1).

The 10-game winning streak is the longest for a Penn State team since the 1995-96 squad opened the year going 13-0. The longest single-season win streak in program history is 15 games (1952). The Lions are one of just eight teams in Division I to win at least their last 10 games

The PSU bench is averaging 22.0 ppg this season, up from 15.1 ppg in non-conference games last season

Penn State is 2-0 in true road games this season, one of just 14 Division I teams to be undefeated in multiple road games this season. Wisconsin is the only other Big Ten team in the group.

Penn State is fourth among league teams in rebounds with 39.2 per game, up from 35.2 last season. The Lions have outrebounded its opponent in nine of 13 games.

Prediction

The numbers on the left-hand side of the win/loss column certainly look good for the University of Wisconsin, a sign that the Badgers are finding success amid a variety of different challenges, philosophies, venues and skill sets.

“We’ve accomplished a lot of things,” said Kaminsky. “We obviously would like to be undefeated; that’s the goal of the season to win every game. We’ve gotten better and better as it’s progressed, but we have a lot to work.”

As Bo Ryan likes to preach, it’s the next 40 minutes that matter. In reality, it’s the next 720 minutes that will matter to the players on the roster, as UW starts its 18 game Big Ten journey against Penn State, a team that appears has finally turned a corner in the Patrick Chambers’ fourth season.

Easily the biggest positive surprise in the Big Ten through the nonconference schedule, Penn State is off to its best start since 1995 and have a legitimate Big Ten Player of the Year candidate in Newbill. A caveat is the Nittany Lions haven’t played high-end competition (only one of their previous opponents are receiving votes in the AP top 25 and they’ve played only two power five teams), but that’s a moot point for a team with only one NCAA appearance since 2001.

“I learned that we're mentally tough. We're not going to quit,” Chambers said. “We're going to continue, we're going to continue to handle adversity and challenges. These seniors, the last three years they've seen it all. They've been blown out. They've had injuries. You name it, we've gone through it.”

A young, inexperienced roster has morphed into a team that plays aggressive, tough and relentless, taking on the identity of Chambers – a Philly guy who was an assistant at Villanova and head coach at Boston University before coming to State College – and of Newbill, who is clearly the team’s heart and soul.

“He's our leader, and he's our warrior,” said Chambers of Newbill, who leads the conference in scoring (21.4 ppg), with a team-best assists average (3.2-to-1) and 4.8 rebounds a game. “Our guys feed off him. Because of his leadership and because of the identity he's created for his team, that's why we’re 12-1 ... It's exciting to coach a kid like that in 2014. It doesn't happen often, and when you get a kid like this, you cherish it.”

Through 13 games, Penn State has had six decided by five points or fewer, winning each of them. Last season, the Lions were 4-8 in regular-season games decided by the same margin. Break it down further, Penn State has won all four one possession games (PSU went 3-5 in such games last year) and have battled back from second-half deficits of 14, 13 and eight this season.

The road team went 3-1 on the opening day of conference action, even more good karma for the NIttany Lions.

“I’m glad it’s time for Big Ten season,” said Kaminsky. “It’s our goal to win a championship. We have an opportunity to go do that now.”

I would be surprised if Wisconsin blew out Penn State and even more surprised if UW shut down Newbill, but this is going to be a stark wakeup call for the Nittany Lions in terms of competition. Through 13 games, Wisconsin – which has led the league in scoring defense in eight of the past 12 seasons - is allowing just 52.4 points per game, the top mark in the Big Ten and ranking fourth nationally.

If Wisconsin wants to win the Big Ten this year, they need to win games like this at home. Badgers by nine.

Worgull's Record: 12-1

Points off Prediction: 88 (6.8 per game)


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