(5) Wisconsin at Penn State
Time: 7 PM ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: WISC -9.5
Betting odds c/o Bookmaker
Wisconsin has continued to roll at 23-2, but the No. 5 overall AP ranking doesn’t seem to do the Badgers a lot of justice. Even at 11-1 in the Big Ten, AP writers seem to be forgetting how dangerous this team was last March; and more to the point, how it is exactly the same team. The Badgers will travel to take on a rather mediocre Penn State team in a game that will air on the Big Ten Network. Early odds showed the Badgers as 9.5 point favorites over the Nittany Lions.
Penn State is just 3-10 in conference play and has dropped four of its past five. Granted, three of those losses have come to top-25 opponents. The Badgers also kept it close with then-No. 19 Maryland on Saturday (Feb 14) night, so the potential is here for the Nittany Lions to more than make this a game. Even so, this is a Penn State team that isn’t fantastic at scoring the basketball, and little of its offense is fluid enough to result in assists. Despite ranking 161st in the nation in scoring, the Nittany Lions sit in the cellar in assists, managing just 10 per game.
A big factor in the lack of ball movement is the fact that D.J. Newbill is a ball stopper, and by all means a good one. Newbill is averaging 20.8 points per game while also accounting for three of the team’s 10 assists per game. He’s knocking down 45.7 percent from the floor, including 37 percent from three-point range, and the Badgers will have to play smart team defense to prevent him from getting off in this one. In the loss to Maryland, he scored 25 points on 8 of 17 shooting while also dropping four assists and a few boards, and accounting for a steal and block. He shoulders a large load, but he’s kept the Nittany Lions in games, if nothing else.
Strangely, in the win over Nebraska on Feb 7, he shot the ball just eight times and scored only 11 points, but the Lions prevailed 56-43 at home. Or maybe it isn’t strange at all: The Lions are 3-1 in games which have seen Newbill score 12 points or less, and the Lions also matchup particularly well against the Cornhuskers. It’s just one opponent in a conference that is largely dominating them, but if Newbill’s offensive presence is minimized, might it not work to his team’s favor?
The Badgers are riding an eight-game win streak that has featured wins over Nebraska (twice), Iowa (twice), Michigan, Indiana, Northwestern and Illinois. Wisconsin still has two AP ranked opponents left in its conference schedule though, facing No. 16 Maryland on Feb 24 and No. 24 Ohio State to close the regular season on Mar. 8. The Badgers ultimate seeding in March will hinge heavily upon how the Badgers handle these two opponents, both of whom the team has yet to face.
Frank Kaminsky has built off the steam he gathered last March to have a great season. He’s averaging 17.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while knocking down 40 percent from behind the arc as a very novel stretch-5 in an offense predicated upon good ball movement and smart play. Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes have done their part scoring as well, averaging 25.4 points between them, and also accounting for another 11.4 rebounds outside of Kaminsky’s already heady presence down low on the glass.
The seven-foot Kaminsky has managed double-doubles in each of his past two contests, while having a particularly good outing last game against Illinois. He shot 11 of 16 en route to 23 points, though he did not attempt a single three. He’s built impressively on each season at Wisconsin now in his senior year, and while the draft projections vary for him immensely (due to his unique skill set and the fact that stretch-5s are a rarity in the NBA), there are few doubting that he is able to prime Wisconsin for another deep run this March.