IOWA HAWKEYES vs.
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
|TIME||4:00 pm CT|
|WHERE||Carver Hawkeye Arena|
|TV||Fox Sports 1|
|STREAM||Fox Sports Live|
TALE OF THE TAPE
|128.4 (1st)||OFF. EFF.||113.7 (24th)|
|98.0 (89th)||DEF. EFF.||96.1 (57th)|
|55.7 (17th)||eFG%||48.3 (245th)|
I was waiting for this game all month. With Wisconsin earlier in the week, and OSU, Michigan and another Wisconsin game to come in the next two weeks, Penn State looked like a pile of leaves placed on top of a deep hole. Yes, they're under .500, but they're also in the Kenpom top 40 with one of the nation's worst "luck" stats (expected win percentage based on efficiency stats vs. actual win percentage). The record didn't tell the story.
And then Penn State lost to Nebraska. At home. And maybe there was something to that record after all.
Penn State is now coached by Jim Ferry, the former coach at Duquesne which, yes, I too thought was coached by Fat Neil. Ferry's in Happy Valley with an interim tag, having only taken the job in October after the sudden firing of longtime coach Pat Chambers. As if that wasn't tough enough, the Nittany Lions have been saddled with arguably the nation's most difficult schedule. They played just four non-conference games, with only one quasi-cupcake; Nebraska was the second-worst team on their schedule, at least by Kenpom ranking. They drew home-and-homes against Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin. It's been a tough year.
The Nittany Lions also present one of the weirdest stat sheets we've seen all season. They are somehow extremely efficient on offense (24th nationally, at almost 1.14 points per possession) despite horrendous shooting (48.3% effective shooting). Here's the full picture: Penn State doesn't have much for height. As a result of being short in the Big Ten, their two-point shooting rate is borderline catastrophic (46.1%) and one in nine of their shots are blocked (321st nationally). The response has been to chuck from deep; PSU is getting 36% of its points on three-point shots, the second-highest percentage in the Big Ten behind only Wisconsin, and two out of every five field goal attempts is from behind the arc. They're not a great three-point shooting team, making just 34%, but the long shots mean long rebounds, which provides Penn State with a high offensive rebounding rate (one in three misses) despite their lack of size. Throw in a low turnover rate from all those guards, and you can cobble together a fairly efficient offense that doesn't necessarily shoot well.
The Lions will look familiar to anyone who has watched over the last few years. The starting lineup features four upperclassmen, with two more veterans prominently featured off the bench. Much like Wisconsin, the backcourt is a three-man rotation: Senior guard Jamari Wheeler (6'1", 170, 5.6/4.3/3.4) starts at the point, with junior Myreon Jones (6'3", 180) playing the two. Jones leads the Nittany Lions in scoring (15.1 ppg) and three-point shooting (40% on more than 100 attempts) but stays out of the rest of the fray: He manages just 2.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, and has one of the lowest fouls-committed rates in the nation (1.5 per 40 minutes). Junior Sam Sessions (6'0", 190, 8.9/1.7/2.1) fills in for both, with Wheeler moving to the two guard on the rare occasion when Jones needs a breather.
The Penn State frontcourt is down to five guys for three spots. Junior Izaiah Brockington (6'4", 200) gets more minutes, and more two-point shots, than anyone else on the team. He doesn't take many threes, but his interior scoring (13.7 ppg) and rebounding (4.4 rpg) balance things out somewhat. Of course, having a 6'4" wingman taking ten interior shots per game is how you get that aforementioned block rate. Until recently, PSU had been starting sophomore Seth Lundy (6'6", 220, 10.9 ppg/4.0 rpg) at the power forward spot, providing a modicum of size. But after a scoreless performance against Michigan State last week, Lundy was benched in favor of junior Myles Dread (6'4", 220, 7.4 ppg/2.2 rpg). Both will play, both shoot a ton of threes, and neither shoots at a particularly high rate. Senior John Harrar (6'9", 240, 9.0 ppg/8.7 rpg) gets the majority of minutes at center and can be a problem. He has, however, struggled against the league's best big men; Harrar had just two points combined in two games against Kofi Cockburn, and a modest nine points on Hunter Dickinson and Trayce Jackson-Davis. Fellow senior Trent Buttrick (6'8", 240, 2.4 ppg/3.1 rpg) is a warm body and five fouls when needed.
This is where we usually look at how nobody can stop Garza, and yes, Penn State has an obvious deficit of guys who can handle The Peacock. He scored 59 points in two games against these guys last year, after all. We didn't really discuss their defense, but Penn State allows 55% two-point shooting, the worst rate in the Big Ten by miles and second-worst among Power Six teams. This could certainly be a gigantic Garza day. But the more glaring issue for Penn State might be the surging Joe Wieskamp, as PSU has literally nobody with the size and athleticism to match up with him. While Weezy has been on fire from three, I'd expect him to heavily work the dribble drive and mid-range game, as well.
Iowa has a tendency to make middling three-point shooting teams look great, and that could certainly happen again Sunday afternoon. It might not even matter. Penn State doesn't have obvious answers for the two most obvious problems presented by Iowa's record-setting offense. Watch out for the trap, take the over, and move on to those three gigantic games (and Nebraska) to end the season.