After getting blown out 65-41 at Penn State on February 13, Northwestern suffered its fifth loss in six games. That game seemed to wake the Wildcats up. NU has won its last two games against Iowa and Indiana.
The Nittany Lions have beaten Northwestern four straight times. The Wildcats last win against Penn State was in 2007.
The last time these two teams met was arguably Northwestern’s poorest performance of the season. Against the Big Ten’s worst defense, NU shot only 34.6 percent and connected on just 2-21 three-point attempts.
Freshman JerShon Cobb was the only Wildcat to finish in double figures. Northwestern’s Big Three of Michael Thompson, John Shurna and Drew Crawford finished with only 21 points combined and shot just 9-27 from the floor.
The key to Northwestern’s success this season has been to get those three going. They have combined for 96 points in NU’s last two games, as Northwestern has regained their stroke.
With three games left until the Big Ten Tournament, NU has a good opportunity to prove itself to the NCAA Tournament committee and improve its RPI. After Penn State, NU travels to Wisconsin and then hosts Minnesota before the Big Ten Tournament.
Penn State Point Guard Talor Battle is making s strong case for Big Ten Player of the Year. He has a difficult task ahead of him with Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Purdue’s JuJuan Johnson trying to lead their teams to Big Ten titles. At the very least he is a first-team All-Big Ten team.
Over his last five games, Battle is averaging 24 points per game. On the season, Battle is putting up 20.8 PPG. He also contributes 4.4 RPG, 3.1 APG and shoots 36.9 percent on three-point attempts. The Wildcats will need to limit his effectiveness to avoid another embarrassing performance.
Jeff Brooks and David Jackson provide Battle with support. Brooks averages 13.3 PPG and 6.6 RPG and shoots 39.1 percent from three. Jackson puts up 10.4 PPG and 4.6 RPG.
Northwestern will have to shoot the ball better to pull out an important victory. Despite its mid-season lull, the Wildcats still have a chance at a historic season. Last season was the first 20 victory season in Northwestern history. The Wildcats likely have at least three regular season games, one game in the Big Ten tournament, and a likely post-season tournament game. If they win four of those, they will get to 20 wins.
The key to beating Penn State will be to improve their shooting. The Nittany Lions are tenth in the conference in field goal percentage defense, and last in three-point percentage defense. The Wildcats match-up well with the Nittany Lions. Northwestern has struggled on defense as well as on the boards this season. Penn State is a poor shooting team and they rank ninth in the conference in rebounding margin.
The Wildcats need to get off to a good start and get the home crowd involved. The 8pm CST game will be televised on ESPN. The crowd will be boisterous if the Wildcats spark early. This should be an interesting contest. Except for their blowout loss against Wisconsin, Northwestern has played much better at home this season. With their backs against the wall, the Wildcats should pull out a win.