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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Penn State

The Crimson Tide head back to the Northeast for another major road challenge

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

After beating an opponent last weekend who had previously toppled a top-5 team in Stephen F. Austin, the Alabama Crimson Tide (4-4) now hit the road to play another opponent who is coming off of a top-5 win, the Penn State Nittany Lions (8-2, 1-1 B1G). Pat Chambers’ squad from State College is off to arguably the best start in program history, with losses only to Ole Miss (a game they should have won, really) and possibly the best team in the country in #3 Ohio State. The Nittany Lions have wins over Georgetown, Syracuse, Wake Forest, and now, the previously undefeated and 4th-ranked Maryland Terrapins.

This is a really good basketball team, one that will likely be ranked in next weeks AP Poll even if the Tide somehow manage to defeat them on Saturday afternoon, What else is new for Tide Hoops though? It is trial by fire this season, and you can bet Penn State will be looking to avenge their loss in Tuscaloosa last year. Will they be a bit hungover coming off of one of the biggest wins in program history Tuesday night? Or will that simply spark a fire under this talented group and lead to a big performance at home this weekend?

We’ll find out one way or another. Can the Tide find a way to win?

The Roster

Starting Five

POINT 6’3 Myreon Jones (13.2 PPG, 3.3 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG)

GUARD 6’1 Jamari Wheeler (4.6 PPG, 3.0 APG, 3.6 RPG, 2.1 SPG)

GUARD 6’4 Myles Dread (9.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.1 SPG)

POST 6’8 Lamar Stevens (16.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG)

POST 6’9 Mike Watkins (11.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 3.8! BPG)

Without a single freshman in their starting five (a rare occurrence in today’s game), the Nittany Lions certainly don’t lack experience with their starting unit. A trio of veteran guards make up the Penn State back-court, led by Birmingham-product Myreon Jones. Jones has been excellent in nearly every facet at the point (42.9%/40.0%/87.0%; 19.1% AST%; 117.7 ORtg), as he represents a serious recruiting miss by the previous staff in Tuscaloosa. Better believe he will be fired up for this game. Wheeler isn’t as much of a threat to score (53.1%/37.5%/50.0%), but he dishes the ball well (18.2% AST%) and forces turnovers quite a bit (4.5% STL%). Dread is more of a high-volume scorer, though he’s struggled this season (32.6%/30.1%/100%), and he’s also the one guard in the rotation with good size, something that Alabama will try to exploit.

The front-court is really where Penn State butters its bread, though. Stevens is a skilled big who can score from multiple spots on the floor (45.1%/28.1%/72.5%), rebound (13.7% REB%), defend (88.8 DRtg), and pass well from the post (14.3% AST%). He should be priority number one for Nate Oats’ defense, so expect to see Herbert Jones on him quite often. Watkins isn’t much of a threat offensively, but he absolutely cleans up on the glass (20.7% REB%) and is a phenomenal rim protector (16.7% BLK%). That’s right, Watkins blocks about 1/6 of all 2PAs while he’s in the game. That’s insane.

The Bench

GUARD 6’4 Izaiah Brockington (10.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.3 SPG)

GUARD 6’4 Curtis Jones Jr. (7.0 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.3 APG)

WING 6’6 Seth Lundy (4.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG)

POST 6’10 John Harrar (2.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.3 APG)

The Nittany Lions have a nice bench make-up as well: a scoring guard as a sixth man in Brockington (48.7%/28.6%/69.0%), a wing with the ability to knock down perimeter jumpers (Lundy: 46.2% 3P%). and an experienced big in Harrar who can rebound (12.4% REB%) and defend (94.3 DRtg). It may not be the deepest or most talented bench, but these guys know their roles and work really well together.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Take Care of the Basketball. The permanent key for this year’s squad. Penn State is another team with very active hands on defense, as they are top-50 in the country in turnovers forced per game. They run a lot of guards and athletic post players at their opposition, and they work to bait teams into poor passes. Despite the win last week, Alabama had another 20 turnovers against the Lumberjacks, allowing them to hang-around for far too long in the second half.
  2. Make the Rebounding Margin Respectable. Penn State is likely going to win the battle of the boards against the Tide, with Stevens, Watkins, and Harrar rotating in the post. What Alabama can’t afford is another 15+ turnover game with a -10 rebounding margin. The Tide will likely be run out of the arena if that’s what ends up happening in this game. Additionally, Penn State’s bigs like to get easy baskets with put-backs on the offensive glass, so Javian Davis and Galin Smith have got to position themselves well for defensive rebounds.
  3. Shots and Freebies. Alabama isn’t a great shooting team, but Oats’ style almost requires that they fill it up from deep anyway. We all know that John Petty, Kira Lewis, Jaden Shackelford, Beetle Bolden (if he can play), and Alex Reese are capable shooters, but they’ve all been quite streaky. Penn State isn’t a team that’s looking to take a bunch of jumpers, as it’s not their area of expertise. This extends to the free throw line as well, where the Nittany Lions are shooting a poor 68.0%, 234th in the country. Alabama’s shooting over 70% on the year at the charity stripe and a tick shy of 35% from three. If they want to pull off the road upset, it will likely require a big night shooting the basketball.

This is yet another big time opportunity for the Tide. Coming off of back-to-back wins, hopefully the guys will have some confidence as they continue to grow and develop in Nate Oats’ frantic pace. Penn State has a lot more capable guards this year compared to a season ago, but they still like to play through the post and around the rim. Maybe the pace that Alabama employs can give them some headaches.

The Tide have three straight away from home in the next few weeks, but this is easily the most difficult of the stretch. Coming off of one of the biggest wins in Penn State basketball history, will the Nittany Lions come out slow? If so, a barrage of ‘Bama threes at Oats-speed could throw Pat Chambers’ team off balance, but the Tide will need to take care of the ball and hold their own on the glass.

The game will tip-off at 1:00 PM CST and will be televised by the homers on the Big Ten Network.