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Rutgers Men’s Basketball Game #23 Preview vs. Penn State

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Includes how to watch, stats, and keys to victory

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch & Listen

Rutgers (12-10; 2-7) At Penn State (14-8; 4-5)

Where: Bryce Jordan Center (capacity 15,261)

Tip-off: Saturday, January 27th at 4:00 p.m. ET

TV: BTN - Brandon Gaudin and Shon Morris

Stream: BTN2GO

Radio: WCTC 1450 AM, WOR 710 AM, Sirius/XM channel 81 - Jerry Recco & Joe Boylan; WRSU 88.7 FM

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers #127; Penn State #57

(Note: Rutgers regressed six spots since the loss to Nebraska)

KenPom Prediction: Penn State 69, Rutgers 60; Rutgers has a 20% chance to win

Series History: Penn State leads the all-time series 40-31, but Rutgers won the most recent meeting at the Bryce Jordan Center last season. It was the Scarlet Knights first ever Big Ten road win.

SB Nation Penn State site: Black Shoe Diaries

About Penn State:

The Nittany Lions are coming off their biggest win of the season, an upset of No. 13 Ohio State in Columbus, where they demonstrated how much potential is within the program if they play up to their abilities. Pat Chambers team is young and extremely talented, with former 4-star sophomores Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins playing alongside junior 4-star Josh Reaves and veteran senior Shep Garner.

But the fact of the matter is Chambers hasn’t gotten the most out of his team in his seventh season at the helm. The Nittany Lions have home losses to Rider and Wisconsin on their resume. Aside from the win over the Buckeyes, Penn State’s best win is a two-point overtime victory at home over Nebraska. Not exactly a good sign in a year where many felt it was do-or-die for Chambers as far as making the NCAA tournament.

That’s not to say Penn State is a bad team.

The Nittany Lions rank in at a respectable 73rd and 60th on KenPom in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. They have four players averaging double-digit points, with Tony Carr leading the charge at 19.4 per game. Carr was the star of the night against the Buckeyes, scoring a game-high 28 points while going 4-for-5 from three and a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Penn State has respectable size in its frontcourt, with Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins providing quality production on either end of the floor.

Looking at their KenPom numbers, the Nittany Lions don’t have any glaring weaknesses. The Scarlet Knights face a balanced team that will surely provide a more difficult challenge than the last time they traveled to Happy Valley.

Here are per game statistical averages for key players on Penn State:

6’5” sophomore guard Tony Carr - 19.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.0 steals

6’8” sophomore forward Lamar Stevens - 15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 blocks,

6’9” sophomore forward Mike Watkins - 13.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, 1.0 steals

6’4” junior guard Josh Reaves - 10.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.2 steals

6’2” senior guard Shep Garner - 10.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists

Know Your Three-Point Shooters:

Tony Carr - 45.7%

Shep Garner - 42.1%

Josh Reaves - 42.0%

Deividas Zemgulis - 36.4%

Rutgers Notes:

For Division I (351 teams), Rutgers is 6th nationally in scoring defense (62.0), 9th in both rebounding (40.91) and offensive rebounding (13.95), 12th in FG% defense (39.0) and 17th in turnover margin (4.0). The Scarlet Knights are among the top three in 12 Big Ten stat categories.

..... Rutgers is 6-0 when holding opponents to 59 points or less this season.....Senior captain Mike Williams is out indefinitely with an ankle injury......

Keys To Victory:

Take It To Them Early

The teams enter Saturday’s contest on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

Penn State is coming off its most emotional game in quite some time, defeating undefeated Big Ten leaders No. 13 Ohio State in dramatic fashion and in Columbus. The Nittany Lions went from leading by 13 with seven minutes to play to allowing the Buckeyes to slowly climb back, with Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Keita Bates-Diop scoring a circus three to tie the game with five seconds left.

Then this happened:

Penn State is on cloud nine after this win — and who could blame them?

Rutgers, on the other hand, feels like they let one get away against Nebraska. The Scarlet Knights kept it close throughout the entire second half, but never got over the hump as they trailed for the entirety of the final 20 minutes.

Given the discrepency in outlook entering the game, Rutgers needs to take advantage from the jump. The Scarlet Knights need to jump out to an early lead, taking advantage of what will likely be a less focused Penn State team than the one in Columbus on Thursday.

The Scarlet Knights are sandwiched between two huge games for Penn State, which travels to East Lansing to face No. 6 Michigan State next week.

It would be natural for the Nittany Lions to take it easier against the Scarlet Knights than they did the Buckeyes and they will against the Spartans. After all, if the Nittany Lions can beat a top three team in the league on the road, why shouldn’t they be able to run through Rutgers at home?

That’s the mentality Rutgers needs to exploit early.

Guard The Perimeter

Penn State used the usual formula to defeat a heavily favored opponent against Ohio State — make it rain from three. The Nittany Lions shot an unconscious 78.6 percent from downtown with an unreal 11-for-14 clip against the Buckeyes. Their first five made field goals came from beyond the arc.

While that statline was an outlier, shooting well from three is a normal occurrence for Penn State. The team ranks fourth in the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage at 38.8 percent, with three players averaging over 40 percent from deep.

As those who follow Rutgers can attest, the Scarlet Knights are not built to make big comebacks (most of the time, at least). They can’t afford to let their hosts get hot from three, as it almost certainly means Penn State pulls away far enough to where Rutgers can’t catch up.

Rutgers needs to do what it does best — muddy up the game, make it hard for Penn State to score and hope it can generate enough offense to slide by with the win.

Issa Needs To Bounce Back

In his last two outings at the RAC, Issa Thiam went from red-hot against Iowa to ice-cold against Nebraska. The sophomore wing went 0-for-7 from downtown against the Huskers, and most of the misses were pretty bad despite some really good looks.

That needs to change drastically for Rutgers to have a chance not only on Saturday, but any other game for the rest of the season. With Mike Williams gone for an indefinite period of time, an already thin team when it comes to shooting is on its last legs. Unless Geo Baker and Corey Sanders erupt from downtown like Tony Carr and Shep Garner did against Ohio State, the Scarlet Knights are doomed without Thiam hitting his season-average clip of 38.4 percent.

In The Bonus

Men’s basketball isn’t the only sport in which the Scarlet Knights and Nittany Lions face off this weekend. While Steve Pikiell and co. head to State College, Penn State’s No. 1 wrestling programs heads in the opposite direction to Piscataway for a sold-out dual meet at the RAC on Sunday. For those who feel disdain for the Nittany Lions (there are plenty of them in the student section of football games, at least), attending both is very doable.