The Penn State Nittany Lions finished last season with a losing record, and now they find themselves one win away from the Sweet Sixteen. The hot-shooting Nittany Lions will take on an impressive Texas Longhorns team tonight in the Round of 32, and we’ll preview the game before going over which side I’ll be backing in this one.
Texas entered the tournament as Big-12 Tournament champions, but many were worried they had a tough first-round matchup, at least in terms of betting, with Colgate. The Longhorns did not seem affected by the matchup, as they won 81-61 and shot 53% from the field and 57% from three. For a team that was 149th in three-point percentage, the Longhorns getting hot from deep is a dangerous site.
A big reason for the impressive three-point percentage was Sir’Jabari Rice, who went 7-10 from deep, finishing with 23 points in the game. The freshman shot 38.2% from three this season, but he will have a tough matchup tonight against a Penn State defense that held Texas A&M to a 29% three-point percentage on Thursday night, which marks the fifth straight game the Nittany Lions have held a team to 29% or worse from beyond the arc.
The Nittany Lions have found an immense amount of success from beyond the three-point line. In Thursday night’s win over the Aggies, Penn State shot 59% from three, with Andrew Funk going 8-10 from deep. Over his last ten games, Funk is shooting 44.9% from three and has been playing at a level that could make him a household name by the end of the tournament.
Even with both sides shooting the ball at an impressive clip recently, the Nittany Lions are now ranked four spots higher in offensive efficiency on KenPom. The true question for Penn State is if they can continue their improved defensive play. Holding Texas A&M to just 59 points is an excellent start to the tournament, but the Longhorns offer a much bigger challenge on that end of the floor. For comparison, the Aggies are 241st in shooting percentage, while the Longhorns are 32nd.
Penn State can currently be found as +5.5 point underdogs in this one, and I’ll be backing them for my play. Even with their ATS win on Thursday, the Texas Longhorns are 2-11 ATS in their last 13 NCAA Tournament games, while Penn State is 4-1 ATS in their last five tournament games. The Nittany Lions are also 10-5 ATS in their last 15 games when listed as underdogs.
Three-point shooting will be a factor in this one, and I trust the Nittany Lions more in that category, even with the Longhorns first round performance. Texas took advantage of a weak Colgate defense for their numbers, but Penn State put on their shooting clinic against an Aggies team that is 42nd in defensive efficiency on KenPom. On the season, the Longhorns are still 149th in three-point shooting percentage, and the looks will certainly not be as clean against PSU.
The Nittany Lions should also be able to limit the Longhorns' second-chance opportunities and minimize the impact of Dylan Disu. Penn State is 47th in the country in defensive rebounds per game, so Disu will be up for a much bigger challenge down low than on Thursday night when he posted a double-double. I think this Penn State has so much momentum they can challenge any team in the country right now.
Penn State Nittany Lions (+5.5)