Coming off an upset win over Indiana— the first Big Ten triumph of the Micah Shrewsberry era— Penn State has some confidence coming into this evening’s game at Northwestern.
Although the Wildcats aren’t thought of as one of the Big Ten’s elite, the Nittany Lions certainly have their work cut out for them on the road against coach Chris Collins’s team.
The Wildcats are 8-3, and all three of their losses— two of them to ranked schools in Providence and Michigan State— have come by single digits.
Northwestern is 1-1 in the Big Ten, with its win coming at Maryland Dec. 5. Additionally, the Wildcats have an out-of-conference win over Georgia.
With the New Year less than a week old, Northwestern would already match its win total from last season with a win over Penn State. The Wildcats went 9-15 and 2020-21, but have an experienced core that Shrewsberry credits for their early success in 2021-22.
“This group has been together,” Shrewsberry said. (Chase) Audige was new last year, but Boo Boie, Robbie Beran, Pete Nance, Ryan Young, those guys have played a lot of games together, and they have had success. They’ve also struggled at times, right? So they’ve been through some stuff together. So you have an older team that’s been through the Big Ten wars.”
The Wildcats have four players averaging in double figures, led by Nance (16.0 PPG) and Buie (14.6.) If Northwestern’s top four scorers, only Audige— who transferred from William & Mary before last season— has been with the Wildcats for less than three years. Audige has only played in four games for the Wildcats this season, missing the first seven with an injured hip. Buie has impressed as Northwestern’s point guard. He ranks fifth in the Big Ten in assists per game (5.5) and fourth in assists overall (61).
Collectively, Northwestern is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring, while Penn State is last. Despite that difference, Shrewsberry noted that the Lions and Wildcats have similar styles, and said he talked about this with former Penn State standout and current Northwestern assistant Taylor Battle.
“I texted Taylor and said something about it. I just texted him and said ‘stay out of my playbook,’ and he was like ‘man, I know, it’s like looking in the mirror,” he said. “When you watch our two teams play in terms of what we do and how we play. So it’s really going to be a discipline and execution game. It’s like playing in practice.”
Another key to the game for Penn State will be it’s three-point defense. Much to Shrewsberry’s chagrin, the Lions have struggled to defend the three ball this season and rank just 189 nationally. Fortunately for Penn State, Northwestern is even worse at defending the three. The Wildcats rank 266.
Offensively, Northwestern doesn’t light up other teams from three, either, ranking just eighth in the Big Ten. But the Wildcats do have Ty Berry, who is fifth in the conference in three-point field goal percentage.
“They have a bunch of guys who can make threes,” he said. “They may not be shooting them at a high, high level. Ty Berry is obviously their best three-point shooter, but Boo Boie’s capable of making shots and making tough shots. Chase Audige, same exact way. Robbie Beran and Pete Nance both stretch your bigs out a little bit because they can space the floor and make shots. So they put more pressure on you that way.”
The game is scheduled to tip-off at 9 p.m. on the Big Ten Network. Chris Vosters and Stephen Bardo have the call.