The Badgers beat Penn State 89-72 in the conference opener for both teams Wednesday afternoon at the Kohl Center. The Lions came in at 12-1, the same record as the No. 4 in the country Badgers, but had some questions about the strength of their non-conference schedule. Despite the lopsided score, Penn State acquitted themselves nicely and had the lead at points near the end of the first half. The Lions put the Big Ten on notice that despite the soft non-conference schedule, they are a team to be reckoned with.
1) D.J. Newbill is a star
For most of the first half, there was no better player on the court. Newbill didn't miss a shot in the first half and finished the game as the leading scorer with 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting. He also had a couple of steals and chipped in two rebounds and one assist. Newbill remains the leading scorer in the conference and will probably remain there until the end of the season. If PSU is going to finish in the top-half of the conference, Newbill is going to have to continue to dominate games.
2) Penn State might be for real
The Lions did not play a grueling non-conference schedule. Their best win, and it is a good one, was against George Washington (39th in KenPom's rankings). But after that, their next best win was against the 142nd ranked Akron. That's not exactly a murderers row that the Lions faced. Their only loss was to the second best team they played, Charlotte, albeit in double overtime. I will not excuse this poor schedule, but PSU played toe to toe with Wisconsin, in Madison, for much of the first half. They have Rutgers on the road and Michigan at home next, which are two winnable games. I'm not completely sold on Penn State yet, but I'm definitely listening to their pitch.
3) Wisconsin is a complete team
Penn State was shooting over 60% from the field in the first half and still went into the break down seven. Wisconsin is just really, really good this year. <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p>Whatever this final score ends up being it says a lot more about how good Wisconsin is than anything else.</p>— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) <a href="https://twitter.com/Ben_Jones88/status/550373834701160451">December 31, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Four of the Badgers starters scored 16 or more points. The team shot 64% from the field, 46% from three, and 82% from the line. They out-rebounded, out-assisted, and out-blocked Penn State. Frank Kaminsky had 18 points and 14 rebounds. Nigel Hayes had 21 points, three assists, and two rebounds. Sam Dekker had 17 points and five rebounds. The guards combined for only four turnovers against a PSU defense that picked up at three quarter court for most of the second half. The Badgers appear to be the class of the Big Ten and should remain a top-5 team in the country the rest of the year.