Talk about two teams that have had similar seasons up to this point. Both Northwestern and Penn State lost their top scorers in Drew Crawford and Tim Frazier respectively. Both had high hopes coming into this season that have been tempered in recent weeks. And now, they each are looking for their first conference win. This should be one heck of a match up in State College.
Northwestern fans have generally been pessimistic towards this year’s team after the Crawford injury but tonight the team can get back on track. Senior guard, and on-floor leader, Reggie Hearn is nearly back to 100% after being hobbled with an ankle injury. He should help the Wildcats offensively but especially late in the clock with their new “burn offense” look designed to limit the number of possessions in a game.
It sounds like TCU Horned Frogs transfer Nikola Cerina might also be headed in the right direction with his injury. I’d like to see him get minutes against a young and undersized Penn State front line. His athleticism is apparent but he just needs to get on the floor.
Most importantly, head coach Bill Carmody needs to give Tre Demps some serious minutes this evening. For some reason he limited Demps against the Minnesota Golden Gophers despite the fact that he is one of the few players that can create his own shot. I know Alex Marcotullio is a senior but you’ve got to get your best players on the floor. A Dave Sobolewski, Hearn and Demps backcourt can do some work offensively.
Game plan wise, I expect we’ll see a lot of post touches for Alex Olah. The freshman big man will almost certainly see double teams from the Nittany Lions bigs and that’ll open clean looks for perimeter shooters. When he has the ability to get good post position though he can’t be timid. Penn State’s foul rate is one of the highest in the country. The Wildcats should be in the bonus early on in this one.
Defensively, Northwestern should go to the 1-3-1 rather early. While they’ve struggled against Penn State in the past, this year’s Nittany Lions team really can’t shoot. The only regular rotation player that can is freshman wing Brandon Taylor. You can always go back to the man but if they are cold early that should allow you to build up a nice cushion on the scoreboard.
Tonight and Sunday’s game against the Iowa Hawkeyes will tell us a lot about the real direction of Northwestern this year. You can’t give up hope after two games, especially when those come to conference powerhouses. If the Wildcats can pick up these two, and even their conference record, we might have something interesting brewing in Evanston.
PREDICTION: Northwestern 57 – Penn State 51.
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