Rutgers (9-5; 3-1) at Penn State (7-6; 2-3)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pennsylvania (15,261 capacity)
Tip-off: Tuesday, January 11 at 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: BTN - Brandon Guadin and Rapheal Davis
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 116; Penn State No. 88
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 87, nine spots better following a 93-65 win over Nebraska last Saturday; Penn State - No. 76, four spots worse following a 74-67 loss to Purdue last Saturday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 106.5 (104th) Defense 97.4 (62nd); Penn State - Offense 108.9 (76th) Defense 98.9 (87th)
KenPom Prediction: Penn State 66 Rutgers 62. Rutgers is given a 36% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Penn State -3
Series History: Penn State leads the all-time series 44-33 including last season’s lone meeting which they won 75-67 in State College on January 21, 2021.
Penn State: 6’6” junior Seth Lundy - 14.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 36.1% 3-pt FG; 6’4” senior Jalen Pickett - 13.3 points, 4.6 assists, 4.2 rebounds; 6’0” senior Sam Sessoms - 11.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 41.2% 3-pt FG; 6’9” senior John Harrar - 10.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 69.6% FG; 6’9” senior Greg Lee - 7.5 points, 4.5 rebounds; 6’4” senior Myles Dread - 5.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 40.0% 3-pt FG; 6’8” senior Jalanni White - 4.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 66.7% FG; 6’4” senior Jaheam Cornwall - 3.0 points, 1.2 rebounds
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 16.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 43.7% 3-pt FG; 6’4” senior Geo Baker - 11.9 points, 4.4 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 38.5% 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 11.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 59.7% FG; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 7.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.2 steals; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 6.8 points, 4.9 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 6.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 4.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 33.3% 3-pt FG; 6’8” freshman Jaden Jones - 4.4 points, 1.4 rebounds; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 2.9 points, 1.4 rebounds; 6’2” freshman Jalen Miller - 1.4 points
About Penn State
The Nittany Lions recently had back to back wins over KenPom Top 50 foes Indiana (No. 24) and Northwestern (No. 45) before losing a hard fought game to Purdue (No. 6) at home this past weekend by single digits. It’s senior laden team but includes four graduate transfers in Jalen Pickett (Siena), Greg Lee (Western Michigan), Jalanni White (Canisius) and Jaheam Cornwall (Gardner-Webb) that are part of their eight man rotation. First year head coach Micah Shrewsberry has PSU playing hard and are led by Seth Lundy and John Harrar.
Penn State is shooting pretty well this season, as they are 53.7% from two-point range (61st), 34.6% from three-point range (118th) and 73.6% from the free throw line (91st). They’re averaging 67.3 points per game and allowing 66.2% points per contest.
PSU is turnover prone (19.7%, 224th), doesn’t force takeaways (13.8%, 348th) and while they are holding opponents to just 47.6% shooting from two-point range, they are blocking shots at a low rate (5.2%, 331st).
In Big Ten play, they are 9th in offensive efficiency and 12th in defensive efficiency. They are only allowing opponents a 20.4% free throw rate which is second lowest in league play, have the third highest free throw shooting percentage at 76.2%, fourth best offensive rebounding rate at 26.9%.
For the season, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 70.4 points per game and allowing 65.4 points per contest.....RU is shooting only 48.3% from two-point range (234th), 33.9% from three-point range (149th) and 68.0% from the foul line (262nd).......They are ranked in the Top 50 nationally in assist rate at 7th (64.0%) and turnover rate at 50th (16.6%).......Rutgers is 6th in offensive efficiency and 8th in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play so far this season......RU is shooting a league best 48.6% from three-point range in Big Ten play......They are allowing the third lowest opponent free throw rate in Big Ten play at just 21.8% and have the third highest steal rate at 9.2%.......Rutgers is 8-1 this season when holding opponents under 70 points.....Mawot Mag will miss tonight’s game per Jon Rothstein after having teeth knocked out last week against Michigan.
Steve Pikiell Pregame Quote
“It’s tough on the road in this league. We’re playing tough teams. We have to play good basketball, we have to be well prepared. These guys know. But it’s not easy to win on the road in this great league. We have to play really well this week.”
Keys To Victory
While Rutgers are the underdog in Happy Valley, this is a huge opportunity for them to grab their first road victory of the season. They have lost their last two trips to PSU after winning twice there previously. The Nittany Lions beat Indiana and gave Purdue a tough game in their last two contests at the Bryce Jordan Center. That being said, they won’t have much of a home crowd as usual.
The Scarlet Knights will need to come out focused and create their own energy. While Penn State has a lot of seniors, Rutgers is the more experienced team in Big Ten play. They can’t expect to continue to shoot 50% from three-point range, especially on the road. This is a game that RU should be aggressive in getting to the rim and push the pace. Ron Harper Jr. needs to be involved early and often as I don’t think PSU will have a lot of answers for him on the defensive end. He should be able to have his way from mid-range as should Geo Baker. Coming off the bench, Aundre Hyatt should continue to be assertive and could have his way offensively as well.
Paul Mulcahy leads the Big Ten with 6.8 assists in league action and should be able to find both Harper Jr. and Geo with kick outs behind the arc. His ability to get into the paint and find open teammates, while getting close looks at the rim should continue tonight. Continuing to share the basketball as a team will generate good looks at the rim. If Rutgers has some early misses, they must stay disciplined and continue to trust they way they’ve been playing unselfishly.
On the defensive end, ball pressure will be key as the Nittany Lions will make mistakes and turn it over. Jalen Miller could see early action on point guard Sam Sessoms. Looking to create transition scoring opportunities off of Penn State turnovers is something RU needs to prioritize.
Key matchups include Cliff Omoruyi vs. John Harrar inside as well as Caleb McConnell likely covering Seth Lundy. He might rotate on Jalen Pickett as well depending on who gets hot, but McConnell can be a difference maker in slowing down Penn State’s two best pure scorers. As for inside, whichever big gets two fouls in the first half and heads to the bench will give the other team an advantage. Harrar is a beast on the boards, as he has the 9th best offensive rebounding rate and 32nd best defensive rebounding rate nationally. Cliff needs to be ready and limiting Harrar on the offensive glass is key.
The x-factor is the free throw line, as PSU is shooting well and RU needs to keep up. An interesting stat is that Rutgers is 8-1 when they have more free throw attempts than their opponents. That might be tough to achieve tonight, but they need to keep the margin manageable and capitalize when they are on the charity stripe.
Winning the turnover battle and profiting from takeaways, holding their own on the glass and scoring in transition are major keys tonight. I fully believe Rutgers is the better team but they have to bring a strong effort and be able to handle whatever adversity playing on the road in the Big Ten inevitably brings.
For this crucial road contest, I selected “Hazy Shade of Winter” which was written by Simon & Garfunkel but I included the cover version by The Bangles.
Winter is fully upon us and as the cold weather is harsh across the east coast, Rutgers travels to Happy Valley red hot. The lyrics from this song that I find relevant are:
“Hang on to your hopes, my friend. That’s an easy thing to say. But if your hopes should pass away. Simply pretend that you can build them again.”
Not perfect, but after seeing postseason dreams hanging on by a thread after a disastrous November, Rutgers has put themselves in position to make a legitimate run back into contention. With two road games this week at Penn State and Maryland, RU has a huge opportunity to continue to claw their way back into the March Madness conversation. It starts tonight and it won’t be easy by any means. However, if they continue to play together, share the basketball and maintain their poise, Rutgers should have a happy bus ride home out of the Valley.