You have to feel bad for Penn State basketball fans. Going into last night's game, it had been a very good season so far. Their stars, Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley have been playing great. They have a winning record both in and out of conference. They've been rebounded very well, especially on the offensive end. They may have just lost their first home game of the season (last Saturday to Minnesota), but they also beat Illinois in Champaign already. Cornley seems to have fought off a knee injury. They have a bunch of upperclassmen (10 in all) who seem to be gelling, and some pretty talented freshman who are contributing. Everything is primed to make a tournament run and make some noise in the Big Ten.
You're down early at home against Wisco, but showing a little life. And then your best player, your senior leader, the Big Ten's second leading scorer and a likely NBA draft pick, lands a little stiffly after taking a jump shot in the lane. Almost inexplicably, he crumples to the floor in agony. He's helped off the court, unable to put any weight on his left leg. You then proceed to show some pluck, but generally play awful defense in allowing the visiting team run the lead up to 31 in the second half. You end up losing by 25 at home. Ouch. Poor Penn State basketball. It's the equivalent of Wisconsin losing Alando in the middle of last season. Those guys are in serious trouble now.
Oddly, the injury (apparently season ending) to Claxton shouldn't have had that much of a dent on the Nittany Lions' team defensive effort since he's known as more of an offensive player. But their D was just plain bad-- Wisco shot 59% from the floor, and grabbed almost half of the available offensive rebounds. PSU's apparent strategy was not to let Bucky beat them inside, so they collapsed into the paint and didn't come out to the three point line against any Wisconsin frontcourt players, essentially daring them to shoot. And shoot they did, hitting 10 of 18 three-bombs, led by Michael Flowers' five treys. But even their interior D was iffy, as demonstrated by Butch, Landry, the Hoft and Stiemsma all having multiple buckets in the paint.
And the Badgers continued to play excellent D (eased by the Claxton's absence), holding the lamblike Lions to 37% shooting overall, despite Cornley going through a hot stretch in the second half. The excellent shooting and fine field goal defense, and pretty solid defensive rebounding (pulling down about 30 of PSU's 40 or so misses) led to the blowout, despite the Badgers doing a couple of uncharacteristic things-- fouling more than the other team and committing 14 turnovers. I'm not sure about the turnovers and the team's own fouls, but the number of fouls drawn was probably a little muted because of the extremely saggy PSU D. That is, zones tend to produce fewer fouls than man to man D, and PSU played a lot of zone.
So, in summation, a sad day for PSU and an encouragingly good shooting performance for UW. Michael Flowers now looks like a legit offensive threat. Next game-- Northwestern in Madison on Saturday night on the BTN.