If you haven’t been paying attention, the Big Ten has had a horrible start to the season. Other than PSU’s struggles in the Charleston Classic, Michigan lost twice in the Old Spice Classic, Minnesota lost twice in the 76 classic, Michigan State lost to Florida, Indiana went 0-3 in Puerto Rico, and Illinois has lost to Utah and Bradley in the last few days. Only Wisconsin, Purdue, and Northwestern had respectable performances in their exempt tournaments, but the Big Ten has a chance this week to make up some ground with the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge (insert snide remark about how much of a challenge this event hasn’t been).
Penn State has a big opportunity tonight to help the Big Ten get out to a good start. A road win for the conference in this Challenge is huge. But not only is this a great opportunity for PSU to help the conference, it’s also a good chance to showcase themselves. The game is on national TV (ESPN2) on a night with no games of importance. It’s obviously not going to be huge TV draw or anything, but it’s most likely that national sportswriters and voters will be tuning in. It would be nice to deliver a good performance for the program, but it’s not going to come easy. I’m really looking forward to this game because it is a great measuring stick for where this team is at. They have to be able to perform on the road to have any sort of success on this season. The Charleston Classic was a disaster, but this is a chance for PSU to bounce back from it.
Virginia’s program is in a transitional state. Tony Bennett is in his first year after taking over the program from former coach Dave Leitao. UVA went 10-18 last year and 4-12 in the ACC. However, they essentially returned everyone (89% of their minutes), and despite their W/L totals, they were not horrible (only -.1 efficiency margin). Bennett has walked into a similar situation than the one he began with at Washington State. He took over his dad’s 4-14 team in the Pac-10 in 07-08 and led them to a miraculous turnaround of 15-3. Granted, I don’t think UVA has the talent of Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, Aron Baynes, and Ivory Clark returning, but they do have reigning ACC Rookie of the Year Sylven Landesburg. It’s tough to really forecast how good UVA is and will be, but it’s very likely they’ll improve from last year.
So far, UVA has gone 4-2 with losses to South Florida and Stanford. They’re coming off a comeback win over Cleveland State thanks to a walk-on’s career night. Check out their KenPom report here. They’ve done a great job limiting their opponents’ offensive rebounds, taking care of the ball on offense, and preventing their opponents’ from going to the foul line. They aren’t going to play fast and it’s likely that this will be a half-court game.
The Cavaliers are led by Landesburg. The 6-6 wing can do everything, averaging 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists a game. He is not quite as good as Evan Turner, but he has a very similar game. Bennett has talked about him running the point, as well. Jackson or Brooks are going to have a tough time containing him. The help defense has got to be on point tonight when Landesburg makes his way into the lane. Sammy Zeglinski, 6-0 Soph from Philly, is the PG. He’s not too big of a scorer (8.8 PPG), but he can shoot it (33 of his 53 points on the year have come from treys). Mike Scott, 6-8 Junior, is the big man for the Cavs. He’s gotten off to the start many hoped from Andrew Jones (12.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG). Former PSU prospect, Mustapha Farrakhan (6-4 Jr) is another starter on the wing. He’s averaging 9.1 PPG and he can also hit the 3. UVA, much like PSU, is still trying to figure out a regular rotation. Assane Sene was suspended for the first 3 games of the year, so he’s working his way back into the rotation. He has only averaged 10 MPG in his first 3 games this season, after starting 16 games as a freshman last year. The 7-footer is foul prone, but he is a good shot-blocker. Jeff Jones, another 6-4 G, could be another starter. He’s averaging 7.1 PPG, but is only shooting 40% from the field and 30% from 3.
The wildcard on UVA’s roster is Will Sherrill, 6-9 walk-on Jr. As I mentioned, UVA escaped Cleveland State with a career game from Sherrill. Check out his statline: 18 points (7-9 shooting, 4-5 from 3), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, and 0 turnovers in 24 minutes. It’s very likely that Sherrill will never put those numbers up again, but who knows what his role is going to be for the Cavs. He went from not even playing in the opener to putting up those numbers in game 6.
Keys to the Game:
- Will PSU be able to crash the boards? A usual strength for DeChellis squads hasn’t been so this season. The Lions have only grabbed 31.1% of their misses. These early season stats can be out of whack, but this will be a great test of the Lions’ rebounding ability. UVA doesn’t give up second chances. If PSU is limited to 1 shot a possession, I don’t like the Lions chances of winning.
- Will PSU get locked into a shooting contest? The Cavaliers usually double the post at all times. This could cause big problems for PSU. There has to be some balance to PSU’s motion offense. They cannot get locked into chucking up 3’s all night. Maybe they’ll catch fire and sneak away with a win, but after seeing this team shoot the ball in Charleston, it’s not likely that will happen.
- How well will PSU’s guards be able to penetrate? I don’t see how UVA will be able to handle the Lions’ backcourt quickness. But then again, will the guards be able to create effectively once they penetrate? Frazier has really struggled to distribute the rock once he gets in the heart of the defense.
- How well can PSU contain Landesburg (if they can at all)? I can see Landesburg’s penetration causing all sorts of breakdowns on defense.
- Will PSU be able to force turnovers? Not likely, but I think this is a must for Penn State. They don’t do a good job of forcing turnovers in the first place, but PSU will need opportunities to score in transition. Those start with creating turnovers on defense. PSU can’t get locked into a painfully slow paced game.
PREDICTION: I’m never comfortable picking PSU to win road games until they prove themselves (especially with this young team). They haven’t yet, so I’ll take UVA to win, but PSU to cover the 6 point spread (for the contest).
*Adam Highberger broke his finger in practice on Friday and is out 3-4 weeks. Tough break for the guy who just hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Once it looked like he was going to crack the rotation, he suffers another setback. It has really switched up practice teams, since Highberger held down the 2nd team PG spot so Frazier could work with the 1st team.
*Penn State will be in the 2010 76 Classic in Anaheim. The field includes Oklahoma State, Stanford, Virginia Tech, DePaul, UNLV, Tulsa, and CS-Northridge.
- Lions gear for ACC foe – CDT
- UVA faces PSU in Big 10/ACC Challenge – Charlottesville Daily
- Lions seek key road victory in Challenge – Collegian
- Penn State Preview – The Great Blog of Virginia