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2/4 Big Ten Preview: Penn State Looks For A Win In Evanston

A look at Monday’s only Big Ten game

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

You’re hung over, dragging ass to work, wondering why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. couldn’t have been born two weeks later so we could all get Super Bowl Monday off. But you’re going to make it through—remember, your boss is hung over, too. And tonight you’re going to turn on Fox Sports 1 and watch Penn State get its first Big Ten win. Maybe.

Game of the Night

-Penn State Nittany Lions @ Northwestern Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, FS1
  • KenPom Spread: Northwestern (-5)

It’s unfair to Northwestern fans, but for thirteen of the Big Ten’s fourteen fanbases, this game is really all about Penn State. Can the best 0-10 team in history dig down and find what it takes to avoid becoming the best 0-11 team in history?

Both these teams are better at defense than offense. (Bet the under tonight.) Penn State compensates for poor shooting by grabbing a lot of its own misses and scoring lots of second-chance points. Northwestern’s approach is to take care of the ball and hit a good clip from the foul line, though they don’t get there particularly often.

The matchup to watch with be Derek Pardon and Mike Watkins. Pardon is sneaky-good. Nobody’s talking about him, but he’s not only top-5 in the Big Ten in effective field goal percentage, he’s also top-5 in limiting the amount of turnovers he makes. That is atypical for someone manning the center position.

Watkins, meanwhile, is sneaky-bad. I’ll just come out and say it—Penn State is a bad team this year because Mike Watkins is playing nowhere near his potential. He had a chance to be the best big man not named Ethan Happ in this league. He does a lot right: he’s currently the best defensive rebounder in the country, and he’s blocking more shots and drawing more fouls than he did last season. But his turnover numbers are way too high, and his shooting percentage is down to .419 in Big Ten play, compared to .581 last season. Those two factors drag his offensive rating down below 100, when it needs to be around 120. At this point Patrick Chambers has one center who is good at defense (Watkins) and one center who is good at offense (John Harrar). No matter who he plays, Penn State is at a big disadvantage at one end of the floor.

Pick Against The Spread: It’s tempting—particularly after watching Indiana beat Michigan State this weekend—to say that a team is more dangerous the longer the losing streak that it’s on. Given Watkins’ potential, Penn State has a higher ceiling as a team than Northwestern. Do they finally get over the hump tonight? I don’t think so. When Northwestern shoots 35.5% from three or better, they’ve won every game but one. The exception was the game against Wisconsin, where they shot 36.8%. Penn State’s opponents this season are shooting 36.7%. I predict the Wildcats shoot well from deep and cover.

Season Record Picking Against KenPom’s Spread: 21-25-1