What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Tim at Black Shoe Diaries, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Penn State.
1) After that rocky 0-6 start to Big Ten play, Penn Stat has really picked things up in their next six games, going 4-2. That includes a pair of pretty solid road wins, too, at Ohio State and Indiana. What's turned around for PSU in this recent winning stretch?
TIM: At least half of those games in the six-game B1G losing skid were tight games were Penn State just couldn't come up with a clutch play in the final minutes. Missed free throws, porous defense, and the lack of any ability to throw a simple inbounds pass, spelled doom in losses to Minnesota, Indiana, and especially Purdue. Three of PSU's four wins came in the final minute, in which somebody stepped up to hit a big shot, such as John Johnson's dagger of a three-pointer against Nebraska (to earn PSU its first B1G win) or DJ Newbill and Tim Frazier's sick crossover-jump shots that scored upsets at Ohio State and Indiana, respectively. Basically put, this team has finally figured out how to pull out some of these tight games. It's still a work in progress, of course (see: the Illinois loss this past Sunday) but it's looking a hell of a lot better compared to a month ago.
2) Tim Frazier doesn't look like he's missed a beat since he returned from that season-ending injury last season. What makes him so effective for Penn State and what can Iowa do to slow him down?
TIM: It's funny you say that about Frazier. There have been times this year where he's certainly seemed like he's not 100% recovered from the ACL injury. He still has that quick-step explosiveness and ability to drive to the basket, but it seems a half-step slower at times. Obviously, his clutch play in Bloomington was vintage Frazier, so it was great to see that again. His veteran leadership and experience, along with his ability to be the engine that makes the team run (like any dynamic point guard would) makes him effective. I don't know how married Fran McCaffrey is to playing man defense, but switching to some type of matchup zone could neutralize Frazier's ability to drive (I still have nightmares about Princeton's 1-3-1 stripping the ball from Frazier on several straight possessions during the epic 20-point collapse at Rec Hall).
3) Of course, Frazier isn't the only threatening member of Penn State's backcourt -- DJ Newbill is a pretty impressive player in his own right. What should Iowa fans know about him -- or any other threats on Penn State's roster?
TIM: Like Frazier, Newbill has that ability to drive to the basket. He also has a 'give me the rock' type of attitude and ability to take over a game in the waning minutes. He's probably a better overall shooter, as well. Another name to be aware of from PSU's backcourt is true freshman Graham Woodward, who has provided a spark as a starter for the last several games, now. He is a solid three-point shooter who is getting increasingly comfortable handling the ball as a point guard, and is likely to be the heir apparent to Frazier when he graduates this Spring. Ross Travis brings athleticism and aggressiveness to the front court, even if he may be slightly undersized. Another frosh guard Geno Thorpe also provides a solid defensive presence, when he actually sees the court (for reasons still unexplained, Thorpe's minutes have been kind of scarce as of late, after starting a couple of B1G games earlier this year).
4) What sort of tactical approach do you think Penn State will take in this game? They're fairly middle of the pack, nationally, in tempo and possession length and in Big Ten play they're playing at the second-fastest tempo among Big Ten teams (behind Iowa). Will they be happy to run with Iowa and make it an up-tempo game or will they try to slow it down?
TIM: I know Pat Chambers has preached about fielding an up-tempo team at PSU, but if he's going to beat Iowa, he's going to have to limit the possessions in this one and play a more grind-it-out type of game. Look for plenty of zone to be thrown at the Hawkeyes, which could help keep Melsahn Basabe and Aaron White in check down low, but could also give guys like Roy Devyn Marble and Mike Gessell plenty of open looks from three-point land. It will be interesting to see if Iowa can impose their pace upon PSU (if they do, I think the Hawkeyes run away with this one).
TIM: Coming into this season, many of us were hopeful that with a healthy Tim Frazier back, along with some added depth and returning experience, that PSU could be pushing for an NIT bid and land 6 wins in B1G play. After the collapse against Princeton and subsequent 0-6 start in conference play, that all seemed like a pipe dream. As it stands, we have six games left. Getting to 6 wins in the B1G going into the conference tournament would have us at 15-16 overall, which means we would need to pull out two wins to get a legitimate sniff from the NIT selection committee. The CBI is probably a more likely destination at this point, and that would be okay, given how any type of postseason hopes seemed lost not that long ago.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
TIM: Iowa has enough depth and athleticism to impose their will upon PSU. When Indiana wasn't busy racking up one of their 20 turnovers last night, guys like Yogi Ferrell were blowing by our defenders with relative ease. Obviously, the PSU defense tightened up when it mattered most, but I just don't have the faith in them playing consistently good enough to give themselves a chance at the end. Give me the Hawkeyes by 10-15 points.
Thanks for being a good sport, Tim, although I still hope your team loses by 50 tomorrow. You can check out Tim and the rest of the BSD crew at Black Shoe Diaries. You can also follow Tim on Twitter at @happyhourvalley and BSD at @BSDtweet. The Iowa-Penn State game is in State College, PA on Saturday, February 15, and is scheduled to start at 12:00 pm CT, with television coverage from ESPNU.