Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Line: Penn State -2.5
Where: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, Pennsylvania
When: Sunday, 2/26 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Penn State will be looking to get on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble when it hosts Rutgers in a crucial Big Ten matchup on Sunday night.
The Nittany Lions entered Saturday listed as the “first team out” in the latest bracketology update from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Rutgers is in a better position as a No. 9 seed, but it still not a lock in the field with three games remaining in the regular season. The Scarlet Knights rolled to a 65-45 win as 6.5-point home favorites on Jan. 24 in the first meeting between these teams.
Offshore sportsbook BetOnline opened Penn State as a 2.5-point favorite on Saturday afternoon, while the total opened at 132.5. Those numbers remained the same as of late this morning.
These teams have gone ‘under’ in nine consecutive meetings. Rutgers has gone ‘under’ in nine of its last 11 road games, but Penn State has cashed the ‘over’ in five straight games.
The Nittany Lions have made a late push into the NCAA Tournament picture following a stretch of 10 losses in 13 games from the beginning of January to the middle of February. They extended their current winning streak to three games with a 75-71 win at Ohio State on Thursday, pulling within one win of the .500 mark in league play.
Veteran Jalen Pickett scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half against the Buckeyes, including the team’s final 14 points. Camren Wynter added four 3-pointers for Penn State, which set a new single-season school record for triples in a season (295). The Nittany Lions rank seventh nationally in 3-point percentage (39.2) and second in point distribution from the perimeter.
Pickett, a fifth-year senior guard who was named the Big Ten Player of the Week last week, is averaging a team-high 18.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He has scored 96 points over the last three games, including a 41-point outing against Illinois, shooting 66.7% from the floor during that three-game stretch.
“He’s trying to will us every single game to something,” Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said. “And he’s doing it. When you got a guy like that, you just ride him as long as you can.”
The Nittany Lions lead the country in turnover rate and rank sixth in effective field goal percentage, but they have the worst offensive rebounding percentage in college hoops. They are facing a Rutgers defense that ranks third in adjusted efficiency and ninth in field goal percentage.
The Scarlet Knights are slumping right now, having dropped four of their last five games. They came up short against Michigan at home on Thursday, scoring just 45 points in a 13-point loss, despite jumping out to a 13-3 lead.
“This is a really good league, and we’re not the only team that’s going through a tough stretch,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “…We’ve got to go on the road and beat a really good Penn State team. It’s just like any other game in this league that’s competitive, challenging and has good coaches. You have to play well.”
Big man Clifford Omoruyi posted a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the first meeting with Penn State, while Aundre Hyatt scored all 14 of his points in the second half. Hyatt scored eight straight points during a 12-2 run to extend Rutgers’ lead to double digits midway through the second half, and the Scarlet Knights led by double figures the rest of the way.
As good as they have been defensively, they come into this game ranked No. 290 in offensive field goal percentage. Rutgers is outside the top 200 in 3-point percentage (32.3), 2-point percentage (48.0) and free-throw percentage (71.2). It is facing a Penn State defense that is No. 139 in adjusted efficiency.
The Scarlet Knights have only covered the spread once in their last five games. Penn State is 4-1 against the spread in its last five Sunday home games and is 12-2 (9-5 ATS) in its 14 home games overall this season.
The pick: Rutgers +2.5
I know that recent form has to be accounted for here, but Rutgers is being disrespected by the betting market in this rematch. Not only were the Scarlet Knights favored by 6.5 points when these teams played last month, but they won by 20 points in that contest. Penn State’s offense had its worst performance of the season, as it was never able to get into a rhythm against one of the best defenses in college basketball. I’m a believer in defensive-minded teams on the road, especially when I get a couple extra points to work with. Pickett would have to put together another masterpiece for the Nittany Lions to cover this spread.