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Micah Shrewsberry looking for historical win at Wisconsin

This Tuesday, Penn State basketball and its head coach, Micah Shrewsberry, are chasing history vs. Wisconsin.

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Dec 18, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Micah Shrewsberry looks on from the bench during the first half against the Canisius Golden Griffins at Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State defeated Canisius 97-67. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State (12-5,3-3) and Micah Shrewsberry hit the road Tuesday as they travel to Madison to take on Wisconsin. Depending on your preferred rating system, the Nittany Lions are either a lower middle-tier team or a squad on the cusp of the top 25.

What is without question is that Micah Shrewsberry and company are firmly on the March Madness bubble. In his latest bracketology piece, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Penn State as the last team out of the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin poses a considerable challenge for the Nittany Lions. Frankly, it’s a game that Penn State is unlikely to win. As the calendar slowly dwindles, any game Penn State can pick up will go a long way toward enhancing its tournament hopes. But a win at Wisconsin would undoubtedly mean more than most.

A tale of two halves

Yet again, last week was an emotional rollercoaster for Penn State basketball.

The week started in Philadelphia as the Nittany Lions took on top-ranked Purdue at the Palestra. Supposedly a neutral venue, Penn State had a considerable home-court advantage as Nittany Lion fans showed up in droves for the anticipated matchup at the “Cathedral of College Basketball.”

Early on, the Penn State faithful had plenty to cheer about as the Nittany Lions led the No. 1 Boilermakers by six at halftime. However, the narrative quickly turned in the second half. Penn State was outscored 45-26 en route to a 76-63 loss. The Nittany Lions had no answer to Purdue’s big man, Zach Edey, who muscled his way to 30 points and 13 rebounds on the night. 

Penn State responded with an emphatic win of its own later in the week. The Lions toppled Indiana by 19 points on Wednesday, marking the largest win over the Hoosiers in program history. 

The Nittany Lions were spurred by a 13-3 run in the first half to take the lead. Except this time, they never looked back. Seth Lundy scored a game-high 25 points on a night he also surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career. The Nittany Lions shot the lights out in general, going 18-31 from behind the arc. The 18 made three-pointers tied the program record, which was set earlier this season. Overall, it was an impressive response to a crushing defeat for Shrewsberry’s squad.

On (to) Wisconsin

The Badgers are desperate for a win. Wisconsin started the season strong but has lost three games in a row. To make matters worse, the Nittany Lions historically struggle at the Kohl Center. Penn State has not won a game in Madison in over two decades.

Wisconsin comes into this contest averaging nearly 67 points per game. The Badgers have four players who average double-digit points, led by Tyler Wahl’s 13.2 points per game. Unlike against Purdue, the Nittany Lions will need to find an answer for the 6’9” Wahl inside. Although Wahl only averages six rebounds per game, Penn State’s biggest weakness on the defensive front this season has been size.

If the Nittany Lions can hit consistently from deep, they’ll have a shot in this game. Penn State has made 43% of its three-pointers in wins this season, compared to 33% in its losses.

However, this could be challenging as the Lions have proven to be streaky from beyond the arc on the road. While they have made 42% of their threes at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Nittany Lions have shot 37% from deep at road or neutral venues.

This game could turn out similar to last week’s matchup with Purdue. Throughout the game, Penn State will likely struggle to find answers in the post on defense. That’s pretty much baked into this one. But against the Boilermakers, the Nittany Lions shot 36% from three. To have any hope of getting his first win ever in Madison, Shrewsberry will need the Nittany Lions to get hot from deep.

A long road ahead

Even if Penn State can pull the upset at Wisconsin, the schedule doesn’t let up the rest of the season. 

After Wisconsin, seven of the remaining 13 games for Penn State are on the road. On top of that, five of those games are against Quadrant 1 opponents in the NCAA’s NET rankings. Penn State only has three more games against teams in Quadrant 3 or lower. But one of those games is against Michigan, who already bested Penn State two weeks ago.

Overall, I’m optimistic that Penn State can still be dancing come March. Even a .500 record in Big Ten play this season should be enough to get Micah Shrewsberry and crew into the tournament. However, the Nittany Lions will have to upset some teams down the stretch to do that.

While a matchup at Wisconsin is perhaps not the best candidate for one of these upsets, there would be no better place to start.

Matt is a Co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.

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