Two teams at opposite ends of the Big Ten Conference standings get together on Wednesday night, as the Penn State Nittany Lions come calling on the seventh-ranked Indiana Hoosiers.
Penn State is the only team in the Big Ten without a conference win at the moment, coach Pat Chambers' squad dropping its first six league bouts, including a 74-51 home setback to Indiana in the first meeting between the two back on Jan. 7. The Nittany Lions' most recent loss came against another struggling team in Nebraska last Saturday, 68-64, and they fell to 7-5 at home as a result. PSU has yet to win a true road game this season (0-3), and it just 1-5 all told outside of Happy Valley when you factor in its 1-2 mark in neutral-site affairs.
Indiana began the season as the No. 1 team in the land, and it certainly lived up to its billing by streaking out to a 9-0 start with signature wins over Georgetown and North Carolina. An 88-86 overtime loss to intrastate rival Butler on Dec. 15 put an end to their dreams of a perfect season, but the Hoosiers responded by winning their next six games, culminating in an 88-81 triumph over a ranked Minnesota squad, but a 64-59 loss to Wisconsin was its first in conference play. IU won at Northwestern this past Sunday, 67-59, improving the club to 16-2 overall and 4-1 in conference.
Indiana owns a commanding 32-9 lead in the all-time series with Penn State, and has won the last four meetings. In the 23-point win earlier this season, four Hoosiers scored in double figures, and the team outshot the Nittany Lions (.524 to .317).
With only two active double-digit scorers, Penn State has it work cut out for it from an offensive standpoint on most nights. The team averages just 62.2 ppg, shooting a mere 39.3 percent from the field, which includes a 28.4 percent showing from 3-point range. It's a shame that standout guard Tim Frazier (16.3 ppg) went down after only four games as the Lions would almost assuredly be in better shape, but as it is most of the heavy lifting is presently being done by backcourt mates D.J. Newbill (15.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Jermaine Marshall (15.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg). Defensively, the Lions permit just 66.9 ppg, as foes are knocking down their field goals 42.4 percent of the time, with the 3-pointer dropping at a 36.5 percent clip. PSU owns a +4.4 rebounding margin, but it is guilty of 13.1 turnovers per outing while goading the opposition into just shy of 12 miscues per tilt. Marshall was high man for Penn State in the recent loss to Nebraska, netting 18 points despite a 5-of-16 shooting performance. Newbill added 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Lions, who made good on only 38.6 percent of their total shots, missing 15 of their 20 long-range bombs in the game.
Unlike their counterpart tonight, scoring hasn't been an issue for the Hoosiers this season as they entered this week ranked second in the country with an average of 84.4 ppg -- just 0.6 ppg behind first-place Northwestern State. The team boasts five double-digit scorers, four of which are starters, and is led by Cody Zeller and his 17.2 ppg. The Wooden Award candidate also leads Indiana's rebounding effort with 8.2 rpg, all while shooting 62.5 percent from the floor and 72.8 percent from the foul line. Victor Oladipo (13.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.3 apg), Christian Watford (12.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Jordan Hulls (11.4 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Will Sheehy (10.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg) all join Zeller in giving the coach Tom Crean one of the more productive teams in all of college basketball. Indiana's defensive presence allows for just 60.6 ppg and typical shooting efforts of only .370 overall, .307 from 3-point range, and more than 15 turnovers per outing. Zeller logged his fifth double-double of the season, and the 10th of his career, by scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds to help push Indiana past Northwestern last Sunday. It was IU's first win in Evanston since 2008. Hulls tacked on 15 points and Watford had 14 for the Hoosiers, who drained 47.6 percent of their field goal attempts compared to just 40.8 percent for the Wildcats. A 23-13 edge in points from the charity stripe helped matters, as did Indiana's 36-24 rebounding advantage.