It's finally here, the crazy, wacky and sure to be head scratching Big Ten play opens for Wisconsin (9-4) tonight as they host Penn State (8-4) in just the 39th game between the two schools all-time. Under Bo Ryan the Badgers are 132-54 (.710) in conference play, earning him a mark that's 2nd to only Thad Matta all-time amongst conference coaches. In the Penn State vs. Wisconsin series it's the Badgers owning a 28-10 lead. The game tips off at 7:30pm Central tonight and can be found on the Big Ten Network with Dave Revsine and Mike Kelly on the call.
Penn State was supposed to be all about Tim Frazier this season, but Frazier suffered a nasty season ending ACL injury early in the campaign and that was supposed to be the end of everything for the Nittany Lions this season. Instead they've actually handled themselves pretty well in his absence, going 6-2 since his injury in the Akron loss on 11/18.
So, who's been stepping up in Frazier's absence? Well, it's been fellow guards in D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall. Newbill is averaging 15.8 points per game and Marshall adds 14.6 points to the mix as well. Leading the way on the boards is sophomore forward Ross Travis with a team best 7.4 rebounds a game.
All of that is well and good, but when you dive into the numbers of Penn State you get a bleak picture of a team that could be in major trouble come Big Ten play. Why? It's because they are 12th in scoring defense, giving up 65.9 points a game and have a negative scoring margin because they only score 65.4 points per game themselves. Only Nebraska is worse in those two categories.
Ben Brust vs. Jermaine Marshall is going to be a fun battle to watch to say the least. These two are damn good players on both ends of the court (Marshall is 3rd on team in rebounds, Brust 2nd) and if one can negate the other this game could turn ugly for that team who's off-guard isn't playing well.
If Wisconsin has any hope of making an NCAA tournament run they can not, CAN NOT lose games like this at home. They've already dug themselves a hole by losing to every team that could've given them a safety net in non-conference play.
Wisconsin has won 15 of the last 17 against Penn State but as of late these games have been majorly ugly (anyone care to remember that 2011 Big Ten tournament debacle), but I don't see that happening at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin needs to start Big Ten play off hot and Penn State could be just what the doctor ordered.
I fully expect the 16 game home win streak to move to 17 in a row tonight.
Score: Wisconsin 77, Penn State 55