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3/20 NIT Preview: One trip to Milwaukee is all that separates the Lions from the NIT semi-finals

Before Penn State can get back to the Big Apple, it’ll need to tame Marquette’s high octane offense

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Penn State Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The NIT is one big ol’ beautiful mess.

Do the teams seem a little disinterested? Yeah.

Is everyone happy to be there? Not entirely.

Do the experimental rules give the whole tournament an exhibition feel? A little bit.

Is it fun? You bet your sweet behind it is.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the path Penn State has taken to get here.

After drawing in-state rival Temple in the first round, it headed out to South Bend for a St. Patty’s Day tussle with the holiday personified.

Complain about the NIT all you want, but when you add in Tuesday’s contest against Marquette, March Madness’ understudy has given the Nittany Lions its three most intriguing non-conference games of the year.

-No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions at No. 2 Marquette Golden Eagles

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET - ESPN
  • KenPom Spread: Marquette (-1)

This one is going to be fun.

In its last game out, Marquette beat Oregon in an absolute shootout. Somehow the Golden Eagles managed to break the century mark yet only defeat the ducks by a nine point margin, as they held on for a 101-92 victory.

It goes without saying, but defense was optional in that game, which has been the Eagles M.O. for almost all of the 2017-’18 season.

Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s has subscribed to the James Harden strategy for winning basketball games, by which I mean the Golden Eagles play as little defense as is humanly possible while believing that shooting the ball anywhere inside the arc is against the rules.

The guard tandem of senior Andrew Rowsey and sophomore Markus Howard have made a combined 228 3-point baskets this year, which is tops in the nation. By comparison, Penn State’s best duo from behind the arc, Shep Garner and Tony Carr, only managed to convert 190 3-pointers in 2017-’18 - a figure that pales in comparison to Marquette’s total despite being good enough to rank the Lions inside the top 10 nationally.

It’s a good thing the Golden Eagles convert on such a high percentage of its triples though, as opponents average 78.3 points per game against its 177 ranked defense.

What makes this game start to look really interesting though is the fact that Penn State’s strengths are Marquette’s weaknesses and vice versa.

According to KenPom, the Golden Eagles offensive efficiency checks in 14th nationally, whereas the Lions defensive efficiency is an eerily similar 15th in the country.

Plus with Mike Watkins officially declared out for the rest of the NIT and sophomore guard Nazeer Bostick’s status still very much up in the air, the Nittany Lions will be limited in what they can do offensively, mitigating Marquette’s defensive struggles.

With that in mind, it’s fairly easy to surmise that Tuesday’s game will be decided on whichever strength is ultimately able to win out.

Should the Golden Eagles start hitting shots it’s not going to matter how good the Lions are defensively. Conversely, if Penn State controls the tempo and limits Marquette’s possessions, it’ll have a chance to pull off a second straight road victory.

If you really want to boil this down, you just need to ask yourself if you think the game goes over or under the 153.5 point line Vegas has on Tuesday’s tilt. Should the under hit, then Penn State is probably heading back to New York City for the NIT semi-finals, after just being there for the Big Ten Tournament. But if the over wins out, then so too should Marquette, who oddly enough would also be heading back to Madison Square Garden which also hosted the Big East Tournament.

As for what do I think happens?

Defense wins championships.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Penn State

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Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 26-19-1