January 3, 2009

Five things to watch: Penn State

MADISON, Wis. - When Penn State comes to the Kohl Center later today, it will bring its best record (12-2) since the 1995-96 campaign. The Nittany Lions beat a seemingly improved Northwestern squad 61-57 in its conference opener and hope to end a streak of 11 straight losses in Madison.

The following are five things to watch during Saturday's early afternoon tilt between Wisconsin and Penn State:

1. Containing Talor Battle

As a freshman a season ago, Battle proved to be a highly effective Big Ten guard. This season, he has improved to be much more. The New York native is leading the conference in scoring with 19.6 points per game. But he also does the little things that elevate point guards to elite status. In PSU's 14 games, he averages 6.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.

It seems UW junior Trevon Hughes, who has also elevated his level of play this season, will guard the Nittany Lion sophomore. The fact that Hughes will be guarding Battle may be a good sign for Badger fans as Hughes typically has some of his better games when he is matched up with a premier player. This should be one of the more entertaining match-ups of the entire game.

2. UW dominates PSU at home

Over the past 11 meetings between the two schools in Madison, UW has not been on the losing side. In the past five meetings at the Kohl Center the Badgers have dominated Penn State, winning by nearly 30 points per game. Last season, Wisconsin clinched the outright conference championship when it throttled the Nittany Lions 77-41. While this season's version of Penn State is markedly improved from a season ago, it will be interesting to see if the Lions can steal a win in a place it has been historically dormant.

3. Penn State's "Big Three"

Wisconsin has seen its fair share of opponent duo's or trios so far this season and it will see another one later today. Battle, Jemelle Cornley and Stanley Pringle all average at least 14 points and make Penn State the only team in the conference with three scorers within the league's top 10. The Badgers have struggled in past games, particularly Marquette with Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Mathews, when being matched up with three star players, so it will be interesting to see how the Badgers handle this Nittany Lion trio.

4. Jon Leuer

It is truly remarkable the impact this sophomore has had coming off the Badger bench so far this season. By averaging nearly 10 points a game with an average of only 18 minutes of action, he has joined the Big Ten leader board in scoring efficiency. Against Michigan, Leuer came off the bench within the first minute of action and was again highly effective off the dribble. At his size, he demands plenty of respect with his ball handling skills and has proven to be a mismatch for many defenders. Look for the Minnesota native to continue making an impact on the scoreboard later today as Penn State only has one player that matches his height.

5. Battling the flu

Before their match-up with Northwestern to open its conference slate, many Penn State players became ill with flu-like symptoms. Senior Danny Morrissey (20.2 minutes per game) did not play as he had a high fever before the game, and Cornley, David Jackson and Jeff Brooks all endured some vomiting throughout the contest. It will be interesting to see if those bouts with the flu will carry over into today's game.

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