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What To Watch For: Indiana hits the road to play ranked Penn State team

Rob Phinisee brings it up the floor on Sunday against Maryland. Indiana lost 77-76. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

Following a narrow, one-point home loss to No. 15 Maryland, Indiana will look to regroup with a road test on Wednesday at No. 24 Penn State.

The Hoosiers were a basket away from earning two ranked wins in one week, a brutally missed opportunity. Although the Hoosiers didn’t get the best of the Terrapins, they displayed drastic improvement in that game and that week with the win over No. 14 Michigan State. That apparent improvement will be challenged with a very solid Nittany Lions team.

Indiana finally earned their first road win on Jan. 18 when the Hoosiers beat Nebraska in Lincoln, but otherwise road games have been a massive struggle for Indiana. Which type of Indiana team shows up in University Park will be indicative of Indiana’s true progress as a team.

Indiana and Penn State do share similar looking seasons. Indiana is 15-5 with a 5-4 record in the Big Ten while Penn State has played one fewer game, owns a 14-5 overall record and is 4-4 in the conference.

Tough schedule, tough team

Despite close to identical records, Penn State is ranked much higher than Indiana in the NCAA’s NET Rankings, slotting in at No. 27 and the Hoosiers at No. 44. This could be attributed to Penn State’s impressive resume to this point. The Nittany Lions own wins over three ranked opponents including Maryland, Iowa and Ohio State, a road win at Michigan and four wins over high-major opponents in the nonconference portion of their schedule.

Indiana has had Penn State’s number as of late though, as the Hoosiers haven’t lost to Penn State since 2016 and are 2-0 against them in the Archie Miller era. Last year, the two teams only played once with Indiana winning 64-62 in University Park.

This year’s Penn State team looks to be the best and most competitive team the Nittany Lions have had in some time though. They are also going to be fresh and ready to go against Indiana as they will have had a week of rest since they last played a game.

After rolling with the same starting five for the first 16 games of the season, Penn State has gone with a slightly different lineup in their past three games. Freshman Seth Lundy and junior John Harrar have started in place of sophomore Myles Dread and senior Mike Watkins after Dread and Watkins both had been struggling with on-court production.

Junior point guard Jamari Wheeler has remained a key cog in the rotation as the team’s starting point guard and has started every game along with the Nittany Lions’ two standouts in Lamar Stevens and Myreon Jones.

Stevens has been a prolific player for Penn State throughout his entire career, holding a career scoring average of 16.4 points per game and is already No. 5 on Penn State’s all-time scoring list.

In his senior season, the 6-foot-8 forward is scoring 16.7 points per contest, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten, while also grabbing seven rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. He’s been everything and more for the Nittany Lions, as expected from the Preseason All-Big Ten Team selection.

Jones has been great in his sophomore campaign as the team’s second-leading scorer with 14.3 points per game, and is the team’s top 3-point shooter, converting on 41.1 percent of his looks from beyond the arc. The shooting guard also gets it done on the defensive end too, collecting the second-most steals on the team with 24.

A familiar face

Overall, Penn State has a very deep lineup, but they have one bench player who Indiana is particularly familiar with: Curtis Jones Jr., a guard off the bench for Penn State, is in his final year of collegiate eligibility as a graduate transfer. He started his collegiate career with Indiana, playing his entire freshman season and seven games of his sophomore year for the Hoosiers before transferring to Oklahoma State.

Al Durham, Justin Smith, Devonte Green, De’Ron Davis and Race Thompson are the only current Hoosiers who were on the roster while Jones played at Indiana.

A close matchup on paper

On paper, the variance between these two teams is hard to notice just by the usual statistics. Both teams average exactly 39.2 rebounds per game, score between 74-78 points per game, shoot about 31 percent from 3-point range and are not far off in other metrics as well.

Penn State owns a really good combination though of being a high-scoring team — 77.6 points per game scored, second best in the Big Ten — as well as being a great defensive squad. Penn State leads the conference in blocks per game (5.8) and steals per game (8.4).

The Hoosiers have averaged 75 points per game over their past three contests, the games in which they’ve shown the offensive growth. If they can keep that up, they can challenge the scoring prowess of Penn State. Additionally, Indiana has taken much better care of the ball, only turning the ball over 14 times in the past two games.

At the end of the day, this should be a fun and physical matchup with two quality squads. They both matchup well on paper with similar team statistics and NCAA Tournament resumes.

Whether Indiana can keep up its consistent offensive play and overall cohesiveness as a team on the road will be the deciding factor.

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