Penn State Basketball

Penn State basketball: Nittany Lions set for big test with Wisconsin to open Big Ten schedule

The focus remained on Penn State until Monday morning.

That’s when coach Patrick Chambers started to break down film of No. 4 Wisconsin, the unanimous Big Ten favorite that hosts the Nittany Lions in the conference opener Wednesday at 1 p.m.

The Badgers (12-1) have lived up to the preseason expectations, proving to be one of the nation’s best teams led by one of the nation’s best players. They’ve done it with the brand of basketball that’s come to be expected under coach Bo Ryan — holding opponents to the fourth-fewest points per game (52.4) and committing the second-fewest turnovers per game (8.6) in the nation.

“Very good team obviously, a top 10 team and coach Ryan’s still the coach there, so a lot of Wisconsin Badger-type basketball,” Chambers said.

Wisconsin dominated its non-conference slate with the formula, outscoring opponents by 21.2 points per game. The Badgers also have a preseason All-American in 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky, who has lived up the hype after taking Wisconsin to the Final Four last season. Kaminsky is averaging 16.5 points and 7.9 rebounds.

That’s the challenge Penn State will face at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center, where the Nittany Lions are 0-13 all-time and the Badgers are 201-22 under Ryan. Penn State (12-1) takes a 10-game winning streak, part of its best start since 1995-96, into its “new season” in the Big Ten.

“We met as a team to kind of put everything to bed on the non-conference and know that this is a new season,” Chambers said. “Everybody’s 0-0 and we have to come out and stay hungry and compete, so that’s been the approach and I’ve liked the last couple days.”

Chambers spent last few days looking at how his team can get better before zeroing in on Wisconsin.

When he went back and watched film of games and practices, he saw a need to improve communication.

“It’s really little things that could really make us a better team on the defensive end and make us more efficient on the offensive end,” Chambers said.

Penn State will be tasked with slowing down Kaminsky, who was chosen as the Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year.

He emerged as a star during last season’s NCAA tournament.

Kaminsky scored 19 points and had six blocks in a Sweet 16 win over Baylor, and he put together a 28-point, 11-rebound performance in a 64-63 overtime win over Arizona in the Elite Eight.

He came into the year highly touted nationally, and he’s leading the Badgers in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots while shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s not one guy that’s going to stop Frank,” Chambers said. “It’s going to take five guys on the floor. He’s a really talented player. He can shoot 3s, he’s got a good step for a 7-footer, that first step is really good. He’s got good stuff in the paint.

“I mean he’s got an arsenal, so he’s a talented player and everything I’ve read about him and saw about him preseason and last year what he did for that team to take them to a Final Four, he’s every bit as good.”

Penn State forward Donovon Jack deflected any focus on his opportunity to defend Kaminsky on Wednesday.

“It’s the start of the Big Ten season,” Jack said. “It’s a new season. We’re just looking to get better.”

Chambers said the team defense approach extends beyond slowing down Kaminsky.

Wisconsin boasts talented players in 6-foot-9 forward Sam Dekker and 6-foot-8 forward Nigel Hayes.

Dekker, who was selected to the Preseason All-Big Ten team, is averaging 12.1 points 4.3 rebounds per game. Hayes is averaging 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 54.9 percent from the field.

Penn State went through its nonconference schedule with an eye on its Big Ten opener.

Now, it’s hoping to build on that success.

“We’re going to try to carry that over into the conference schedule,” forward Ross Travis said. “We ended at 12-1, which is a great, great record to finish the nonconference with. It was extremely hard.

“Nothing was easy, so I think we got an idea of what it’s going to take to carry that on to conference play.”

Notes: Penn State received five votes in this week’s AP Poll. ... Penn State’s D.J. Newbill leads the Big Ten in scoring with 21.4 points per game. Nebraska’s Terran Petteway is second with 19.3 points per game. ... Wisconsin leads the series with Penn State 31-10. The Badgers beat Penn State 71-66 last year. ... Wisconsin’s lone loss came to current No. 2 Duke.

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