Three Takes: Koenig carrying Badgers, Penn State's promise and Maryland's conference path
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Maryland and Wisconsin continue to look strong, and I’m excited to see what Penn State can do with a tough gauntlet ahead. Here are three things on my mind as conference play rolls on:
Koenig can carry Badgers when it matters
Maryland star guard Melo Trimble has delivered in the clutch throughout his stellar career. But Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig likes to remind us that on the biggest stages and in the biggest moments, he usually excels as well. Just ask Michigan.
The Wolverines had a golden opportunity to shock the Badgers in Madison Tuesday night, but Koenig had other plans. The senior — who is on a quest to reach his third Final Four — rescued the Badgers with a brilliant display of drives, crossovers, contested threes and clutch free throw shooting. After scoring just three points in the first half, Koenig took over down the stretch and finished with 16 points. Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ deserve all the attention they’re receiving, but Koenig is special — especially when the Badgers need him the most.
Penn State can reach full potential by improving shooting
In victories over Michigan State and Minnesota, Penn State showed perseverance and mental toughness. Most of all, the Nittany Lions defense has been gritty and impressive. In conference play they rank first in field goal percentage defense, frustrating opponents into a measly 39 percent shooting from the floor. Now it’s time for their offense to join the party. Penn State is only scoring 66 points per game on 40 percent shooting, including 29 percent from beyond the arc. Those marks both rank second-to-last in the the Big Ten.
The explosive Indiana Hoosiers roll into State College Wednesday night. Penn State then hits the road to play at Purdue and Wisconsin. All three opponents can expect a tough challenge from the Nittany Lions. Mike Watkins has been a force on the glass in conference play, trailing only Caleb Swanigan in rebounding at 9.8 boards per game. Watkins keeps possessions alive and has the strength to battle the best front lines in the Big Ten. But for Penn State to make a serious move the in the conference race, the shots must start falling at a higher rate. If guys like Tony Carr (35 percent) and Shep Garner (38 percent) can bump their shooting percentage up closer to Lamar Stevens’ 46 percent clip, that would be a massive improvement.
Terrapins’ schedule lines up favorably for conference title hopes
No. 25 Maryland has been a pleasant surprise so far this season. The Terps have only lost twice and on paper look to have drawn a favorable conference schedule. Maryland plays Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern and Michigan State (the top four teams currently below them in the standings) only once. And in the year of fantastic freshmen, no group is producing more fruit collectively than Coach Turgeon’s youngsters. Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson have been sensational, combining to average 29.5 points and 15 rebounds per game this season. They’ve proven they’re more than ready for prime time and have fit in perfectly with Trimble.