The Iowa Hawkeyes (12-12, 3-8) are playing in State College for a rematch against the Penn State Nittany Lions (15-9, 5-6). The first game did not go as planned and foreshadowed many of the woes we’ve seen throughout the conference season. To help remind us what PSU offers, Tim Aydin is BACK from Black Shoe Diaries to answer some of our questions.
1. Since last we spoke, Penn State has been much more Jekyll & Hyde, with wins over OSU and Nebraska but losses to Minnesota and Northwestern. What has been at the heart of consistency issues for the Nittany Lions?
As much as I hate to use one player’s absence as an excuse, it was very clear during the Ohio State game just how much of a difference Reaves’ presence on the floor made as far as the team’s defensive intensity was concerned. Reaves is not a guy who will lead in any particular category aside from steals, but he may be the best all-around player who can score points, grab rebounds, and play stellar defense. Had they had him available for Minnesota and the rematch at Northwestern, perhaps those games could have been flipped into additional B1G wins, which all of a sudden matter again (can’t wait to have our bubble burst come March!)
2. Tony Carr has been a man on fire and leads the conference in scoring but doesn’t seem to be getting the buzz which might accompany it. How has he excelled and what has given him fits?
Tony Carr is our most reliable scorer, hands-down. However, he has had a tendency to be a bit of a ball-hog at times, and it’s not uncommon for him to try and go 1-on-5 in the final minutes of a tight game and play hero ball. In some cases, this hero ball has worked (see: Nebraska, Ohio State) and in other cases, it has backfired (see: Wisconsin). There was some stat being displayed before the Michigan State game that when Carr takes 20 or more shots, PSU is 2-8 but when he takes less than 20 shots, the record is practically flipped. He seems to be doing a better job lately of spreading the wealth to his teammates such as Lamar Stevens, Shep Garner, Mike Watkins, and Reaves, and if that keeps up, PSU has potential to finish the season strong.
3. Penn State’s defense has dipped since conference play has hit full stride. What problems have cropped up for them on that side of the ball?
Missing Reaves definitely hurt, but it also didn’t help every time Mike Watkins would get in foul trouble. With Watkins sitting on the bench, we had no shot-blocking presence replacing him off the bench. This is not meant to be a knock on guys like Julian Moore, who has done an admirable job as a sub in the post when spelling a few minutes for Watkins, but that defensive presence in the post takes a huge nose-dive when Mike is out.
4. Looking at the Nittany Lions remaining schedule, there are some big games on the board. Are there still hopes of getting to the tournament this year? Who needs to step up if they’re going to be dancing?
There are several opportunities left to get a resume-boosting win, with rematches at home against Maryland and OSU, a home date with Michigan, and road trips to Purdue and Nebraska. As it stands right now, PSU is 5-6 in the B1G and will realistically need to finish bare minimum with a 10-8 record in the conference heading into New York for the B1G tournament, where they will need to make a deep run similar to what they did in 2011 when Talor Battle and Company led PSU all the way to the finals, beating ranked Wisconsin and Michigan State teams in the process. If they can somehow do that, and avoid bad losses to teams currently sitting in the basement like Iowa (sorry) and Illinois, they should at the very least play themselves onto the NCAA bubble and hope for some outside help to sneak into the First Four. While I’m not holding my breath on this happening, stranger things have happened with PSU hoops.
5. Lastly, who ya got?
Iowa seems to have gotten their act together a bit more as of late, but I think Shep and Carr both catch fire from downtown, Reaves is his usual pesky self, and Watkins goes full Dikembe Mutombo in the paint [wags finger]. Plus, there’s a renewed sense of maybe PSU can get on the NCAA bubble if they go on a tear the rest of the way. Penn State 78, Iowa 65