As the regular-season winds down, the pressure cooker of the Big Ten only intensifies with several teams battling for postseason positioning. For some like Indiana, every game becomes increasingly more important to build a resume that solidifies their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Thus, Sunday’s game against No. 9 Penn State becomes a golden opportunity for the Hoosiers to secure their 5th win of the season against a ranked team and go a long way toward the goal of safely moving IU of the bubble.
How to Watch
|Indiana Hoosiers vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
|Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
|Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall – Bloomington, Ind.
|Find the Lowest Ticket Prices on SeatGeek
|IU Sports Network
Getting to Know the Nittany Lions
Penn State is 20-6 overall and currently second in the Big Ten standings. The Nittany Lions have been one of the biggest surprises in college basketball this season and have continued to improve throughout the year. In fact, the team has gone 8-1 over the last month. The sole loss came in their last game, falling to Illinois 62-56.
Penn State is currently 16th in the KenPom rankings, largely because of their effective play on both ends of the court. The team is 31st in offensive efficiency and 16th in defensive efficiency.
PSU averages 76.7 points per game, which is the 44th best scoring offense in the country. They shoot 44.4% from the field and 33.2% from three. On defense, Penn State holds their opponents to 67.2 points per game. Similarly, they limit their opponents to only 40.2% from the field (48th best defensive shooting percentage in the nation) and 31.9 % from three.
Defensively, Penn State likes to hedge on ball screens to try to push guards away from the basket to prevent them from attacking. For example, against Illinois, they employed this strategy against the dangerous Illini guard Ayo Dosunmu. However, Illinois quickly realized that, after hedging, Penn State was slow on their defensive rotations. Thus, the Illinois guards would pass down low immediately after Penn State hedged and often wound up with Kofi Cockburn in favorable matchups that resulted in easy Illinois baskets. If PSU does the same against Indiana, it could result in another big night Jackson-Davis and other Hoosier post players.
An important factor that could substantially impact Penn State’s gameplan is whether Myreon Jones will be able to play against Indiana. Jones has missed the last few games due to an illness and has been replaced in the starting lineup by Myles Dread. Jones’s absence is a major loss for Penn State, particularly on the offensive end. Jones is the only other double-digit scorer on PSU, averaging 14.1 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. Additionally, beyond being the team’s second-best scorer, Jones is also one of the team’s best volume three-point shooters at 41.3% on 5.7 attempts per game. If he cannot play, this will mean even more pressure will be on Lamar Stevens to perform.
Lamar Stevens remains the heart and soul of the Penn State team. One of the most underrated players in the Big Ten, Stevens is averaging 17.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game. On offense, Stevens has a very high usage rate and touches the ball in 29.2% of possessions. Stevens also leads the team in turnovers with 2.5 per game, but this is largely the result of the ball being in his hands throughout the game as he shoulders a heavy load of the Penn State attack. Stevens is very physical and uses his body well to create extra space. He is also very crafty, utilizing excellent ball fakes and his basketball IQ. Despite a decent shooting form, the one flaw in his game is three-point shooting consistency, as he only is shooting 27.2% from three.
Another important player for Penn State is Mike Watkins. He is their primary post presence offensively and defensively. He contributes 9.9 points and a team-high 7.9 rebounds per game. More importantly, he averages 2.5 blocks per game and is a defensive presence.
While Penn State only has two players that average double-digit scoring, the team has seven players that average at least five points per game. Therefore, the team relies heavily on depth, trusting that one or two players off the bench will step up any given night to contribute offensively.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Penn State Nittany Lions
|G: #1 Al Durham (Jr.)
|G: #2 Myles Dread (So.)
|G: #10 Rob Phinisee (So.)
|G: #5 Jamari Wheeler (Jr.)
|F: #3 Justin Smith (Jr.)
|F: #1 Seth Lundy (Fr.)
|F: #4 Trayce Jackson-Davis (Fr.)
|F: #11 Lamar Stevens (Sr.)
|C: #50 Joey Brunk (RS Jr.)
|F: #21 John Harrar (Jr.)
What to Watch for
1. Will Myreon Jones Play?
Jones is Penn State’s second-best scorer and best volume shooter. If he cannot play, PSU’s role players will need to step up and help relieve the scoring burden from Lamar Stevens. On the other hand, if Jones is able to return, it could be a massive shot of adrenaline to an already dangerous team.
The return of former Indiana University basketball player Curtis Jones may be the ironic answer to Penn State’s need for additional scorers.
2. Ball Security
Penn State is 25th in the nation in offensive turnover percentage. Their ability to limit turnovers and take care of the ball on the offensive end is a substantial reason why the team is so efficient. Conversely, Indiana’s turnover tendencies are well documented. In fact, Hoosiers are 170th in offensive turnover percentage. If IU hopes to pull off the upset, they will need to focus on ball security to match Penn State’s efficiency.
In Indiana’s earlier game against Penn State, the Hoosiers gave up 17 turnovers against the Nittany Lions, of which resulted in 21 points off of turnovers.
3. Getting to the Line
It’s been a prominent point all season: Indiana is great at getting to the free-throw line. They are 20th in the nation in free-throws attempted. There is a good chance they will continue this trend over the weekend because Penn State fouls quite frequently. Penn State allows opponents to shoot over 19 free-throw attempts per game and are 209th overall in opponent free-throw attempts. Sunday should be an opportunity for the Hoosiers to get to the line and convert easy points.
4. More Trayce Jackson-Davis
Trayce Jackson-Davis has been the biggest bright spot for the Hoosiers all season. Despite all of the pressure and expectation upon him, he has continued to perform. After hitting a bit of a rough patch in January, he has looked terrific in recent games highlighted by his monster 27 point and 16 rebound game against Minnesota. As the hunt for the NCAA Tournament intensifies, Jackson-Davis will be a crucial factor down the stretch. Moreover, in this game in particular, he may find himself open around the basket if Penn State continues to hedge on ball screens as they have recently.
Photo: AP Photo / Gary M. Baranec