Two games into the 2018-2019 season the Penn State Nittany Lion basketball team is exactly where they should be: 2-0. The Nittany Lions have opened the season with home victories over North Florida and Ohio Valley Conference preseason favorite Jacksonville State. However, the first road test of the season is next.
Tonight, Pat Chambers and company will travel to Chicago to do battle with the DePaul Blue Demons. The Blue Demons enter the game with a 2-0 record as they look to crawl out of the basement of the Big East this season. While the Blue Demons are an improved team, the Nittany Lions, on paper at least, appear to be the better team.
Led by fourth year coach Dave Leitao, DePaul has won just 20 games combined the past two seasons. They have also finished last in the Big East each of these seasons, and are picked to finish last in the conference again this year.
Despite the low expectations, the Blue Demons are off to a 2-0 start while averaging 85.5 points per game. Senior guard Max Strus has been the team’s best player in the early going shooting 57% from the field on his way to a pair of 25 point performances. Fellow senior guard Eli Cain is averaging 14.5 PPG, but no one else on the DePaul roster is averaging double digit PPG.
The Blue Demons lack a true big man. A pair of 6-foot-9 forwards in Jaylen Butz and Paul Reed are the closest thing DePaul has. This should bode well for the Nittany Lions who have received quality minutes from John Harrar and Trent Buttrick in the absence of Mike Watkins. In fact, the inside game probably favors the Nittany Lions in this one.
Watch The Three – Both Strus and Cain love to shoot the three. Strus is 10/20 from behind the arc through two games, while Cain is 6/15. The rest of the Blue Demon roster is just 4/17 from three. If the Nittany Lions can contain the three point shot from Strus and Cain, DePaul could struggle to score.
‘Bolting’ Onto The Scene – True freshman guard Rasir Bolton is a dude. The Virginia native is coming off a 25 point outing against Jacksonville State and already appears ready to challenge Jamari Wheeler for a starting job. Two games into the season Bolton is averaging 19 PPG, he is shooting 55% from the field, and his 3.5 assist per game leads the team.
Controlling The Boards – As we covered above, DePaul does not pose much of a threat in the paint. This a game where Harrar could be the best big man on the court. Hopefully, Penn State can take advantage of this and control the boards tonight. The Nittany Lions were out-rebounded by JSU 37-35 on Monday night, let’s see they can win the rebound battle against DePaul.
Winning on the road is never easy, neither is getting off to a fast start. Do not be surprised if the Nittany Lions, which fell into old habits of having extended sluggish periods of play against JSU on Monday night, start slow tonight. Ultimately, the Nittany Lions are the more talented team and talent reigns supreme. Penn State 77, DePaul 70