Wisconsin Badgers (3-5) at Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2)
Conference play is now in full swing after a great slate of preseason tournaments and conference on conference challenges. One conference that looks like it is going to be really good once again is the Big 10. Entering play today the Big 10 has just two teams ranked inside the top 25, in Michigan State and Minnesota. That being said, several teams lurk just outside the rankings, and I can see the Big 10 as a 5-7 bid league this year for the big dance. We will be breaking down two of those squads today in a matchup featuring the Wisconsin Badgers and the Penn State Nittany Lions.
The Wisconsin Badgers travel to Penn State to play the Nittany Lions. Penn State is currently a -5-point favorite and the game total over-under is set at 135 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:00 PM PST from the Jordan Center in University Park.
Wisconsin comes into this game struggling badly so far on the season. But it’s not all their fault. They have played a really tough schedule so far, early on. While the Badgers are just 3-5 on the season, all five of those losses have come against teams that currently project as teams that will make the NCAA tournament. Losses to Xavier, Baylor, UCLA, Virginia, and Ohio State can be explained, but at some point, the Badgers need to start winning some games or this season is going to get away from them quickly.
To be completely honest the Badgers just aren’t a very good team this year. They don’t really do anything great, and they do lots of things poorly. They are one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country at a dismal 68% as a team. They don’t score, even for a defensive minded conference like the Big 10, the Badgers 68 points a game isn’t going to get the job done. They are also shooting just 33% on three-pointers this season, good for 234th in the country. They can’t score inside, they can’t score outside, they can’t shoot free throws, that is a recipe for a lot of losing and that is just what the Badgers have done so far this year.
Returning Wisconsin big man Ethan Happ has done his part, the 6’10”, 235, Happ, is averaging close to a double-double at 16 points and close to 9 rebounds a game. The problem is they just aren’t getting much production out of anyone else and Happ isn’t the kind of talent that can lead a team on his own. The Badgers have lost five out of their last six games, with the lone win coming against Milwaukee. Many of those losses haven’t even been all that competitive as they have lost by an average of 11 points a game. Wisconsin got their first taste of Big 10 conference play last time out and got blown out by a middle of the pack Ohio State team 83-58.
I am not going to sit here and pretend that Penn State is a world-beating squad that has eyes on the Final Four, they aren’t, and they don’t. But they are a solid Big 10 team that is going to be right around that bubble cut line when March rolls around. Their 7-2 record is mostly because they have played a softer schedule to start the year, they have played two good teams, and they lost to both of them. In their first conference game they did pick up a nice win at Iowa against a mediocre Hawkeye team, but the Lions hadn’t won at Iowa since 2001, so even if the Hawkeyes are a little down this season, it was a big win for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State is led by one of the best all-around players in the nation in Tony Carr. Carr can really fill up the stat sheet as he is averaging 20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and a steal and a half a game. The second-year guard can truly do it all and he is looking to lead his team to the tournament for the first time since 2011. The Nittany Lions have a particularly easy stretch of games coming up after this game and could see their win total really pile up. Next up for Penn State after this game is matchups with George Washington, George Mason, Binghamton, Rider and Coppin State. We could very well see this team sitting at 13-2 and still not know if they are really any good.
I am more likely betting against Wisconsin than with Penn State in this matchup. I like what the Nittany Lions are doing and I think Tony Carr is going to break through and take his team to the tournament this year, but Wisconsin just stinks and that is why I am backing the Nittany Lions. Wisconsin is coming off a blowout loss to an Ohio State team that ranks very similarly to this Penn State team, that game wasn’t competitive, and the Badgers were at home! On the road against a solid school that has its eyes on making a run in March? I think Wisconsin is going to really struggle to stay with the sharpshooting Nittany Lions and get blown out by double digits. Give me the Penn State Nittany Lions laying -5 points.