1.First game of the stretch against the first place Team…Yikes
The No. 7 Michigan State Spartans are not going to take the Nittany Lions lightly after Penn State nearly completed the 17-point comeback earlier this season. This game could get ugly for Penn State. If the Nittany Lions keep this game close, they should be happy.
2.The man, the myth, the legend—No. 2 Jamelle Cornley
It is no secret that Cornley has been the backbone of this team. Most recently, his leadership skills sparked a comeback in a must-win against Iowa. Cornley is under-sized, but he definitely makes up for it with his non-stop motor. Penn State needs Cornley to stay healthy and productive to continue its run to the March Madness.
3. No. 33 for three
Danny Morrissey provides instant offense off of the bench. The long-range sharp shooter is a zone killer. When Battle, Pringle and Morrissey are on the court, it forces the opposition to play man-to-man defense. The Nittany Lions should rely on the three-point specialist when the rest of the cavalry is having a bad night.
4. Four games left at the BJC
Penn State is 13-3 at home this season, including a big win against then No. 14 Purdue. Here is what is left at home:
Wisconsin on February 8
Minnesota on February 14
Indiana on February 28
No. 19 Illinois on March 4
Penn State lost to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center by just four points earlier this season. The 12-7 Badgers can be beaten. The Nittany Lions can, and will, beat Wisconsin at home.
Minnesota crushed Penn State in Minneapolis 79-59. To turn this around, the Nittany Lions need their fans to be their Valentines for this game of Feb. 14. No need for candles or a romantic pianist when can you have nachos and Zombie Nation pumping through the BJC speakers.
The fans will be looking for a Valentine's Day massacre in favor of Penn State, but the Nittany Lions would ultimately be happy with any kind of win.
Penn State will be heavy favorites against Indiana. The Nittany Lions almost found a way to lose to the Hoosiers in Bloomington, but should have no problem blasting Indiana at home at the end of the month.
Illinois is interesting. The two teams have yet to play, and have similar records against the same teams set of Big Ten opponents. The Fighting Illini have five players averaging double figures for scoring, while Penn State relies on the big three—Pringle, Battle and Cornley.
Going 1-1 versus Illinois would be good for Penn State.
5. Man-to-Man, Five-on-Five defense is a must
Good shooting teams will tear Penn State's zone apart if the Nittany Lions can't rotate fast enough.
Penn State is undersized in the front court, and has trouble rebounding from a zone defense. Offensive rebounds from the zone tend to result in easy lay-ups and more open shot attempts. The 1-3-1 zone works occasionally because it does create turnovers, but consistently relying on a zone will hurt the Nittany Lions.
6. Battling below 60 percent
Sophomore point guard Talor Battle has played great this season. Like any normal human being, he is capable of having a rough night. In Penn State's five losses, Battle has shot 19 of 32 from the free throw line—just under 60 percent. Also, Battle's field goal percentage sagged to 34.3 percent in those losses.
Chances are, if Battle is playing well, the Nittany Lions are winning—and vice-versa.
7. Dropping seven free ones a game
It is hard to respect a team that can't make an open shot. The Nittany Lions are a 65.3-percent free throw shooting team, going 13 of 19.9 a game on average. Cornley struggles quite often from the charity stripe, only shooting a 55.2 percent.
Fans better close their eyes and pray if it comes down to a free throw contest at the end of the game.
8. Not a bad average
Penn State broadcaster Dick Jerardi likes to call "8" a snowman, but for the Nittany Lions sake, it's the number of three-pointers made each game. In Penn State's losses, the team averaged seven threes made. That is only one less than the average, but they shot a miserable 32.7 percent from behind the arc in those losses. Penn State relies on the three, and will need to shoot at least 40 percent from deep to win against top-tier conference talent.
9. 9-9? Good grief!
Minnesota torched Penn State with a 9-for-9 effort from behind the arc. Letting a team go 9-for-9 from three-point land can never happen again. Period.
10. Time to dust them off?
It costs about $10 to get your dancing shoes shined. Keep that in mind, Happy Valley, as your team makes its final surge to make the NCAA tournament.
Penn State could be dancin' in March!