The grind of this season’s version of the Big Ten Conference race may be wearing on Rutgers and No. 16 Penn State. But the smart money suggests a Nittany Lions rebound Wednesday night when the teams meet at Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa. A bettor’s best play on the Rutgers vs Penn State odds might be to take Penn State and lay five points while playing the under of 137 points.
Both hit dry spells at the time of the year when a team least wants to start losing and both teams will bring desperation into this one. The Scarlet Knights (18-10, 9-8) went winless last week, including a 79-71 loss Sunday at Wisconsin that dropped them to 1-7 away from Piscataway, N.J. They fell to eighth in the Big Ten, and could use another win or two to feel totally secure about locking down an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
Rutgers vs Penn State odds
|Date||Wednesday, Feb. 26|
|Time||7 p.m. ET|
|How to watch Rutgers vs Penn State||Big Ten Network|
|Rutgers vs Penn State odds – point spread||Penn State -5|
|Rutgers vs Penn State odds – over/under||Over 137 (-110), Under 137 (-110)|
As for the Nittany Lions (20-7, 10-6), they are probably headed for the four-letter tournament, even if their two-game skid continues. They’re part of a five-way tie for third in the Big Ten, and were a top 10 team until losing to Illinois and Indiana last week.
Sunday’s 68-60 defeat at Indiana featured 29 points by Lamar Stevens, who moved into second place on the school’s all-time scoring list with 2,145 points, and not enough offense from anyone else.
“Lamar Stevens was great today, but he needs help,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “We can’t play that way. When we are successful, we’re sharing the basketball, and multiple guys get double figures. If we’re relying on one guy … and, did he put us on his back, and he was in foul trouble.”
Penn State is clearly missing its second-leading scorer, sophomore guard Myreon Jones, who has missed five straight games with an undisclosed illness. Jones’ 14.1 points per game were sorely missed last week when the team averaged just 58 points in their close defeats.
Jones’ absence has obviously skewed the line towards the under in the last three games, when the Nittany Lions and their opponents each combined to finish with fewer points than the projected over-under. In fact, they were 15 points under the number on Sunday after going 25 under it in the setback to Illinois.
Penn State odds – moneyline: -220
Still, Chambers found a positive from the loss at Indiana, where Penn State wiped out a 13-point halftime deficit and even took a 48-42 lead before the Hoosiers finished with a 26-12 burst.
“We came out of halftime and really punched back,” he said. “And that is everything, everything you want to see. The character of the team … you want to see them punching back, and we did. Things weren’t going our way, but we competed until the end.”
Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell was singing a similar tune following the loss at Wisconsin. The Scarlet Knights’ identity – the first they’ve really had in a long time – is based on tough defense and crashing the glass, but the Badgers shot holes in that.
Wisconsin canned 11 3-pointers and upped its record to 13-1 at home, ruining a solid showing by Rutgers’ offense. It tied Green Bay for the highest-scoring game by a Badger opponent in Kohl Center this season and shot 50 percent for just the second time in 17 Big Ten games.
“Not a lot of people come into Wisconsin and have success,” Pikiell said. “We’ll have a chance if we keep playing hard and fighting through the obstacles this league brings, especially on the road.”
No building in the Big 10 has constructed as many barriers to an opponent’s success as the old Rutgers Athletic Center in 2019-20. The Scarlet Knights won 17 straight with the home crowd cheering for them before Michigan toppled them on Feb. 19 in a 60-52 grinder, the kind of game they have won all season.
However, for all its experience, grit and defense, Rutgers is still vulnerable against anyone. Its only road win is against Nebraska, which is in a major rebuild under first-year coach Fred Hoiberg, and its offense is scattershot often.
Rutgers odds – moneyline: +190
Of the top seven scorers in a balanced attack, just two of them are making more than 44.1 percent from the field. The team connects on just 30.4 percent on 3-pointers, with just one player in the regular rotation hitting more than a third of their attempts from distance.
When the Scarlet Knights dumped Penn State 72-61 on Jan. 7 in Piscataway, they shaped the game to their strengths. So-so shooting (41.4 percent) was offset by a 43-36 rebound advantage, a 22-11 margin in made free throws and the Nittany Lions’ 36.1 percent night from the field.
Teams in losing streaks often drone on about how “we have to get back to basics.” That’s true for both these teams, but with Penn State in its dojo, it seems probable that it will be the squad that bounces back from consecutive losses.
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