Thursday's second game features the first team in the tourney to play on consecutive days this season, as Penn State advanced by a hair over Nebraska on Wednesday afternoon. Iowa was in attendance to watch the Nittany Lions outlast the Huskers at the United Center thanks to a first round bye. The Hawkeyes finished the season strong and are looking to keep the momentum going and play into the weekend.
The two sides met once in the regular season just a few weeks ago in Happy Valley. Penn State fought back from seven points down in the final 7.23 of the game to force overtime, but a D.J. Newbill inbounds pass with 30 seconds remaining in the extra period was intercepted by Aaron White to preserve the Hawkeye win, 81-77. White led Iowa with 21 points and 14 rebounds, while Newbill scored 19 in the losing effort.
When Iowa has the ball
The Hawkeyes narrowly missed out on the No. 4 seed in the tournament and a double bye, losing a tie-breaker to Purdue. Iowa is one of the hottest teams in the conference, winning its final six games thanks to excellent rebounding and defense. White is Mr. Everything for Fran McCaffery, leading the team with 15.9 points and 7.4 boards per game and being named first -team All-Big Ten in his final year in Iowa City. The trio of Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury, and newly-crowned Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Gabriel Olaseni give the Hawkeyes the kind of length in the frontcourt that can be a matchup nightmare. While Iowa seems a safe bet to make the NCAA tournament, a strong showing in the Big Ten tourney would go a long way towards boosting its seed.
When Penn State has the ball
The Nittany Lions lost six of seven coming in to the tourney, the lone win coming in the final game of the season. Beating the Huskers gives the squad a little momentum. Newbill, who was curiously left off the All-Big Ten first team, was the second leading scorer in conference play, and put up 26 in Wednesday's game against Nebraska. As he goes, so will Penn State. The Nittany Lions have also gotten nice contributions from freshman Shep Garner of late, including 19 points in the first round game. Head coach Pat Chambers needs a second scoring option to emerge next to Newbill if Penn State hopes to see another game in Chicago.
The biggest advantage in this game is Iowa's size. Penn State's only real hope for neutralizing the Hawkeye frontcourt is to get hot from the perimeter. Newbill and Garner are both capable three-point shooters, having made a combined 9-16 on Wednesday, but additional scoring will be needed from the likes of Brandon Taylor and Geno Thorpe. After being out rebounded 51-34 by the Huskers, the Nittany Lions are even more over matched against the Hawkeyes. If the shots aren't falling, it could be a very long day for Newbill and Co.