Despite Penn State’s record (15-11, 3-10), they have been able to play close games but haven’t found a way to get over the hump. Only two of Penn State’s 10 conference losses have been by double digits and its eight losses have been by an average of five points. Considering Wisconsin’s two previous road wins at Penn State have been by an average of four points, Wisconsin will have to be ready for a battle.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as it strives for its ninth straight win over Penn State.
Lay up: Can Wisconsin shoot a strong field goal percentage?
Penn State hasn’t been able to win many conference games, but the Nittany Lions have found success with its defense. In nine Big Ten games, Penn State has held its opponent below its season scoring average, including seven of the last eight by an average of 11.7 points. Maryland was the first opponent to score above its average (+5.4) since the Purdue game Jan. 17.
Although only allowing opponents to shoot 40.6 percent from the field this year, Penn State saw Wisconsin shoot 63.8 percent in Madison, the highest field goal percentage its defense has allowed this year.
Wisconsin’s success on offense this season has been capitalizing on what the defense allows. Coming off an impressive 50.9 percent shooting performance against Illinois, a trend has started to emerge that the Badgers can string together solid shooting nights. Wisconsin has shot better than 50 percent 10 times this season and only once have those games not come consecutively (UW shot 38.9 percent against Northwestern after shooting over 60 percent against Indiana).
Against a tough Penn State team at home, Wisconsin will need to be able to consistent ways of scoring, avoiding prolonged scoring droughts and trying to get to the free throw line if shots aren’t falling. Those last two areas of concern haven’t been a big issue this season among UW’s balanced starting lineup. One of the best shooting teams in the Big Ten and country, Wisconsin’s 48.4 field goal percentage ranks second in the Big Ten and 17th in the NCAA.
If Wisconsin can shoot above 50 percent or even close to it, it should hopefully help build an early lead and help keep Penn State at a distance.
Mid-range jumper: Winning the points in the paint battle
Penn State and Indiana are the only two Big Ten teams to score at least 70 points against Wisconsin. Of the 72 points the Nittany Lions scored against the Badgers in December, 34 came in the paint, which helped Penn State shoot 53.7 percent from the field on 29-for-54 shooting. Wisconsin has only given up 30 or more points in the paint five times in Big Ten play, as opponents are averaging 21.2 points in the paint.
Since the opener, the Nittany Lions have only reached 30-or-more points in one other game, scoring 46 points around the basket against undersized Indiana, and are averaging 25.1 points in the paint during Big Ten play. Although 7-0 junior Jordan Dickerson will be able to match up with Frank Kaminsky, he doesn’t pack a scoring punch, only scoring two points in Madison and is averaging just 2.3 points a game in about 15 minutes.
Outside of Kaminsky trying to impose his will, he’ll also have to try and cause Dickerson to pick up fouls. Even if Dickerson doesn’t log a lot of minutes, the junior averages three fouls a game, committed four fouls against the Badgers earlier this year and fouled out of Penn State’s 3-point loss to Maryland Saturday. If Kaminsky or Nigel Hayes can find ways of forcing Dickerson to foul, it will increase the advantage of Wisconsin’s taller, more experienced frontcourt by forcing mismatches against smaller or inexperienced players.
The size advantage should help Wisconsin win the rebounding battle, which in turn would lead to second-chance opportunities and scoring against a defense giving up 34.2 rebounds and 26.1 points in the paint per game. Wisconsin is collecting 9.6 offensive rebounds a game and has collected double-digit offensive rebounds in four of the last seven games. Collecting an offensive rebound 34.2 percent of the time, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten, it should help Wisconsin tire out the Penn State’s defense by making them work extra possessions.
3-pointer: Slowing down D.J. Newbill
Newbill makes the Penn State offense go. Leading the Big Ten in scoring at 20.8 points per game, only twice during Big Ten play has Newbill not lead the Nittany Lions in scoring. With Newbill being responsible for almost a third of Penn State’s scoring (68.1 points a game), Josh Gasser will need to be ready for round two against Newbill, who scored 29 points in the first matchup.
At times Gasser allowed Newbill to consistently drive to the hoop, as he registered 10 of his points in the paint. Newbill also got to the free throw line by finishing 5-for-8, but Gasser did a good job of defending Newbill after halftime. Newbill scored only three points in the first 15 minutes, 40 seconds of the second half but padded his stats by scoring Penn State’s last 11 points.
Newbill will get his shots and will go on individual scoring runs, meaning the Badgers will have to weather the storm and make him work for his shots. A skilled player who is shooting 45.7 percent from the field, the key to disrupting Newbill’s rhythm is trying to force him to settle for perimeter shots, as he is only making 37.1 percent from 3-point range this season.
While cutting off any driving lanes for Newbill is important, Penn State will try and use screens to give Newbill a chance to drive to the basket. If and when that happens, Hayes or Kaminsky will need to be able to consistently contest any shot in the low post. If the Badgers can either get their hands on a shot or force Newbill to adjust his attempt in the air, it could force him to try and create space off the dribble opposed to being aggressive attacking the basket. He’s also susceptible to turnovers, having committed six turnovers twice in the last six games.
Getting the ball out of Newbill’s hands is important, as Brandon Taylor is the only other Penn State player averaging double figures at 10 points per game. Whether it is Hayes or Sam Dekker guarding Taylor, both have been playing good defense and limiting shots around the basket. That should be good against Taylor, as he is shooting only 37.2 percent from the field.As long as Gasser and Wisconsin cut off any passing lanes, limit offensive rebounds and force turnovers, the Badgers will be in good shape with their extra possessions against a Penn State defense allowing 65.9 points a game.