The start of conference play has been a mixed bag for teams across the nation as they enter the meat of their schedule. The same can be said for both Penn State Basketball and Northwestern as they enter Friday’s game with a 1-2 conference record.
The Nittany Lions entered the season as a trendy sleeper pick to upset the power balance in the Big Ten and end up in the top half of the conference. They opened up conference play with a road win at Iowa, but have dropped their last two with an opportunity to win each of those games.
The Big Man
Penn State’s last game against Maryland saw big man Mike Watkins dominate in the paint with 17 points and 17 rebounds. His performance against Wisconsin was also fantastic as he recorded 22 points and seven blocks. His play in a losing effort is a sign of things to come as Watkins has been one of the Big Ten’s best big men so far this conference season.
Lamar Stevens and Tony Carr have both been inconsistent with their play and need to play better against a solid Northwestern team. Stevens match up with Vic Law will be the difference in the game as star point guard Bryant McIntosh will not suit up for the Wildcats.
Inconsistency has been the name of Stevens’ game this season as he opened conference play with 22 points against Iowa, only to struggle mightily with Wisconsin the next game.
His 15 points on 7-13 shooting is a sign of his offensive capability, but he struggled to keep up with Michael Cekovsky and Bruno Fernando, who combined for 27 points and 17 rebounds on 12-18 shooting.
Head coach Patrick Chambers has said on multiple occasions that his defense leads to his play on offense, so Stevens needs to play with a better intensity on defense so he can help Penn State knock off Northwestern.
Tony Carr’s Impact
Carr has been a huge part of Penn State’s improved offense as he is currently second in the conference in scoring at 18.7 points per game. His 3-point shooting has been incredible as he is shooting 50.8 percent, but he has struggled with making big shots in crunch time. The Maryland game is a prime example of that as he went 6-23 from the floor and missed a critical floater with less than 10 seconds left in the game with the Nittany Lions down four.
A similar play happened in his last conference game against Wisconsin as he missed a 3-pointer late in the game. Northwestern’s lack of a premier point guard means that Carr should be able to get his shot over any defender covering him. The only issue with that is he might force contested shots that are unnecessary which will disrupt the rhythm of the offense.
Northwestern coach Chris Collins understands that his team will not have his lead point guard, so the Nittany Lions need to control the tempo of the game with Carr. Penn State has the advantage of hosting the game and being healthy, which should result in a conference victory to even up its record to 2-2.