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2018 Big Ten Tournament Preview: #7 Penn State Nittany Lions vs #10 Northwestern Wildcats

Penn State looks to get a win to stay on the bubble

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

In the #7 vs #10 match up in the 2018 Big Ten Tournament, Penn State will take on Northwestern at 6:30 on Thursday. Both of these teams had up and down years and were in the middle of the pack in the conference for most of the year.

These two teams faced off twice this season with the series being split. The first game was a 78-63 win for Penn State at home. The second game was a 70-61 win for Northwestern and they were also the home team. With the series being 1-1 and home teams taking both victories, this is sure to be a good game on neutral floor.

Penn State is 19-12 on the year and 9-9 in conference play. They have been led by their star point guard and First Team All-Big Ten selection Tony Carr. Carr had a speculator year, averaging 19.9 points, 4.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. He has come alive in big moments and if the Nittany Lions want to have success during this week and make a run at the NCAA tournament, they will need him to be the best player on the floor.

Northwestern has had a disappointing year after many projected them to be an NCAA Tournament team and Big Ten contender. They are 15-16 on the season and 6-12 in conference play. They are led by Scottie Lindsay and Bryant McIntosh, but both have struggled at times this year and battled injuries.

Let’s take a look at some of the keys to victory for both of these teams.

1.Mike Watkins

The big question in this one is whether or not Penn State big man Mike Watkins will play and if he does, how many minutes will he be able to play. Watkins is averaging 12.1. points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game, which is tied for second in the conference. He also leads the conference in field goal percentage.

Watkins suffered a knee injury against Michigan and then sat out the whole second half of that game and their season finale against Nebraska, in which they got blown out. Watkins is their best rebounder, rim protector and one of their best scorers so his status will be very important in this one.

2. Guard Play

This game features two of the best guard combos in the conference with Carr and Lamar Stevens for Penn State and McIntosh and Lindsey for Northwestern. This game will come down to which one of these duos can lead their team and simply perform better.

McIntosh and Carr are also both in the top 5 in the conference in Assists and even though it is their scoring ability that draws the attention, they both will need to move the ball, control the tempo and get their teammates involved. Both of these guys have very capable and willing scorers around them to move the ball too.

3. Travel Time

As many people know, it is not just the play on the court that can affect a game but also factors off of it. With the Big Ten Tournament in New York at Madison Square Garden this year, many teams are traveling pretty far to get there.

For Penn State, there are going 203 miles, which is the third closest school only behind Rutgers and Maryland. For Northwestern, they are going 715 miles to get to New York. That is over 500 miles more than Penn State has to go. While this may not be a factor at the end of the day, it is definitely something to watch for as the game unfolds.