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2018 NIT Quarterfinals Preview: #2 Marquette vs. #4 Penn State

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40 minutes of hoops with a trip to Madison Square Garden on the line.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Penn State vs Northwestern
In a way, Penn State’s mascot is weirder than Providence’s.
Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

This is...actually going to be a fun game? I’m trying to look at this outside of my Marquette Fan lenses as much as I can, and I can’t help but see this game being played at the Real Tournament. I can tell you right now that it’s going to be light years better than Duke/Syracuse, in what will likely be the basketball version of that girl who liked horses a little too much in grade school. Don’t get me wrong, this matchup isn’t getting me to even consider watching a second of the NIT next year, but it’s nice to know that this tournament can have fun matchups.

Maybe you’ve only seen Penn State in the context of their resume, which wasn’t good. That’s fine. Not all of you can be as good as me. They lost to Rider, a program that should be banned from basketball solely because they think “Broncs” is a mascot name that isn’t horrible, and then Minnesota at home and Wisconsin at home. KenPom and T-Rank, however, tell different stories. In both ranking systems they’re a top 30 team with top 15 defenses. They also beat Ohio State three times and just got through a win over Notre Dame that’s impressive even if you take into account the 14 minutes Bonzie Colson had to miss. As they always say, gotta beat good teams if you want to get to the Elite Eight of the NIT.

What Is A Nittany Lion?

I have no idea.

What Does Nittany Even Mean?

I am just as clueless as you are. I do know that Penn State fans probably love seeing people look this up and seeing them dive into the rich history of their school, so I’m not even going to give them the satisfaction of that.

What’s The Weirdest Sport They Have?

Fencing. Their head coach’s name is Wes Glon. I thought fencing rosters would have like 5 people max on the team. There’s like 25 people on this thing.

That’s Not A Very Weird Sport.

Yeah, well, I don’t think the NCAA sponsors a whole bunch of underwater cricket teams so think before you ask dumb questions.

I’m Sorry.

It’s okay.

Can We Just Talk About Basketball?

To be honest, I’d rather talk more about how goddamn big these fencing rosters are, but okay.

If you didn’t only know Penn State from their resume, you might know them because of Tony Carr. He’s pretty much their entire offense. He’s their leading assist man by far, has taken the most twos on the team (barely) and the second most threes on the team. He ranks 70th in the country in usage and only one other player on his team is used at even an above average rate.

Basically, imagine if Marquette only had Andrew Rowsey OR Markus Howard, but the remaining player was able to wear stilts without sacrificing mobility.

To make matters worse, Mike Watkins, a noted defensive psychopath, sustained an knee injury against Purdue in mid-February that leaves him sidelined for the season. Nazeer Bostick will also be a gametime decision for doing his best impression of Woodstock. Since Bostick isn’t a particularly useful player, my guess is Pat Chambers will say he needs another game to learn his lesson.

Something caught my eye looking at Tony Carr’s page. He’s a 6’5” guard that takes more two point shots than even their post players, but doesn’t get to the line much at all (30.8 percentile in free throw rate). Why is that? Let’s look at the shots he’s taking,

Tony Carr stats
BartTorvik.com screengrab

That’s a buttload of “other” twos. If you want some context, D-1 average for all players hovers around 26% of shots being two pointers not at the rim. That figure is at 43.5% for Carr. That’s staggering, even if you think guards are prone to have more of a midrange game. A 6’5” walking mismatch should play basketball in a gimp suit before taking almost half of his shots as midrange jumpers, especially with how good he is behind the line.

Defensively, the loss of Watkins obviously isn’t good, but they’ve generally fallen within their season expectation on that end over the past couple games. There’s not an incredibly noticeable trend either way, so I wouldn’t make too much of it. This is a defense that seems to try and funnel teams into their bigs, where they are most able to create havoc.

I’ll Be Honest, I Skipped All That. Just Feed Me My Content In A Way That’s Both Bite-Sized And Insightful.

This is every Marquette game ever. They’re not winning this on the defensive end, although Jamal Cain and Greg Elliott at least have the ability to slow down Tony Carr. Penn State’s guards are going to try and pressure Rowsey and Howard to force the action into their bigs, where the offense isn’t incredibly strong.

This will be a prime example of Andrew Rowsey needing to be a distributor, and that means he just has to keep doing what he’s been doing in the NIT, where he averages 7.5 assists a game. I think he will dictate the way this game goes. I can see this game being ugly, and Rowsey is going to have to not force everything for Marquette to win. Nothing too out of the ordinary here.