DES MOINES, Iowa — Penn State enters as the underdog yet again against Texas in the NCAA Tournament’s second round. PSU opened as a 5.5-point underdog to second-seeded Texas, and that number hasn’t moved. The total dropped significantly, from 140 to 137.5, in light of both teams’ defensive play.
A win would land Penn State in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2001. Here’s what needs to happen for Penn State to topple the Longhorns.
FIND AN EARLY OPENING
Texas will likely try to force Penn State away from Andrew Funk, which means someone else will probably be open. After beating Texas A&M, Penn State talked about its abundance of weapons and needs to put that into practice here.
Texas prides itself on not giving up many looks at the hoop, so Jalen Pickett’s decision-making must be top-notch. He either has to create looks for himself or find someone free to force Texas to change its defense. If Texas gets settled in, it’s easy to get frustrated at the lack of good looks at the basket. Penn State has to find where it can attack Texas and let that open things up for the rest of the game.
Most likely, that’s going to be with Cam Wynter. Wynter only took two shots against Texas A&M, but he came up big for Penn State at the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. Texas likely hasn’t had time to prepare for him, making him the most likely to get an opening. If that’s the case, he must be ready for his chances.
PROTECT THE BASKETBALL
Eight days ago against Northwestern, Penn State struggled to avoid turnovers. Penn State committed a season-high 15 that night, surviving only because of its defense. Texas won’t shoot as poorly as the Wildcats did. Texas turns mistakes into points and is one of the best in the country at causing turnovers.
This goes hand-in-hand with Pickett making good decisions early and often. Against Texas A&M, Penn State played one of its best games of the season, allowing just three Aggie steals. The Longhorns are good for eight steals a game, and Marcus Carr knows a bit about defending Penn State from his time at Minnesota. Penn State must ensure Carr and Sir’Jabari Rice can’t end possessions without shots.
DEFEND THE PERIMETER
Unlike Texas A&M, Texas can shoot. The team let Rice fly against Colgate, and he dropped in 23 points against the Raiders. If Penn State gives up too many deep looks against this team, it will be a problem.
Under Shrewsberry, Penn State has always excelled at forcing teams into shots that look better than they are. Penn State won’t be able to stop Texas from getting looks, but it can ensure Texas doesn’t get its first choice. Texas likes to run a fast-paced offense, requiring shooters to get in a rhythm. Anything Penn State can do to disrupt the Texas shooters will make a difference.