Penn State Nittany Lions
Good Wins: @Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota, @Illinois, Illinois
Bad Losses: None.
1. Ball security: It might sound like a ridiculous strength, but getting the most out of each possession is extremely important, especially in the possessions-are-at-a-premium Big Ten Conference. Penn State ranks 18th in the country in turnover rate, giving the ball away on just 17.3 percent of possessions. The Nittany Lions also are sixth in the country in turnovers per game, with just 10.9 give-ups each contest.
2. 3-point shooting: Penn State knows the motto “Live by the 3, Die by the 3,” but Penn State insists on living by the 3-pointer, mainly because it doesn’t recruit notably well–especially in the post area, where the Nittany Lions use their athleticism on the perimeter to down opponents. In the stunning win at Michigan State earlier this season, Talor Battle was in range – and this isn’t an exaggeration – anywhere from 30 feet and in. Battle (36.6 percent) and Stanley Pringle (46.6) are the team’s best marksmen, but even forward Jamelle Cornley doesn’t mind stepping out beyond the arc every now and then. The result is a 43.8 3-point percentage.
1. Size. As stated earlier, Penn State has little size. There is a trio of sophomores – 6-foot-10 Andrew Ott, 6-foot-9 Andrew Jones and 6-foot-8 Jeff Brooks – who make up the front line, but Ott’s minutes are limited and Jones and Brooks don’t exactly light up the score sheet. That means if Penn State is going to win, it has to do so by being more lucky than good in the post on defense and its guards have to outplay opposing guards.
2. Free Throws: Going back to Penn State’s win in East Lansing, take a look at how Penn State almost blew the game: Up a dozen with slightly more than three minutes to play, MSU decided to begin putting the Nittany Lions on the line. Why? Because Penn State’s 64.5 percent free throw shooting is 297th in the country. With 10 seconds to play, Michigan State missed the second of two free throws that would have tied the game. Penn State went 1-for-8 from the foul line down the stretch. That was a big game on the road, but it will be a similar environment anywhere in the NCAA Tournament.
Dance Drought: There isn’t exactly a stat on this but it seems teams that haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament in a while tend to have a little more desire. For these teams, making the field is almost as meaningful for them as reaching the Final Four is to the country’s best teams. Penn State hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2001 and with a pair of grizzled seniors and a slew of talented sophomores, the desire to end that drought is pretty high.
First round exit. The resume isn’t great, but it is better than a good chunk of other bubble teams. In addition to a possible 11-7 finish in the Big Ten (one game remaining as of March 6), Penn State padded its win total with the following nonconference opponents: William & Mary, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Hartford, New Hampshire, Towson and Lafayette. Those teams are bottom of the barrel at best and the best out-of-conference win is at ACC bottom-feeder Georgia Tech. A solid conference season can only help so much. Wins at Michigan State and at Illinois and against Purdue are great, but Talor Battle’s real chance to shine on the NCAA stage may come next year.