By the numbers: Previewing No. 2-seed Texas’ matchup with No. 10-seed Penn State

Mantra Dave, Managing Editor

After defeating No. 15-seed Colgate on Thursday, Rodney Terry’s Texas turns its attention to No. 10-seed Penn State in a second round matchup Saturday evening. The Nittany Lions cruised past No. 7-seed Texas A&M 76-59 in an end-to-end clinic. 

Texas is aiming to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2008. In its way is Penn State, a team of extremes: among the nation’s leaders in 3-point percentage and adjusted offensive efficiency, and towards the very bottom of Division I in pace of play and assist rate. 

Here are four interesting factors to keep an eye on in the Horns’ second round matchup.

Tempo and turnovers

Penn State is one of the nation’s slowest teams on both sides of the ball, ranking 319th in tempo out of 363 Division I outfits. In addition to making full use of the shot clock, Penn State’s games rarely feature significant transition play. The Nittany Lions are the seventh best team in the nation at avoiding turnovers, but the third worst at causing them. 

Texas is similarly solid in possession, but also boasts a top-20 turnover defense. 

“Their defense causes a lot of problems with the amount of turnovers they force,” said Micah Shrewsberry, the Penn State head coach, noting that his team would have to avoid easy mistakes. 

Battle of experience

Only a handful of teams can claim to be more experienced than Texas. Penn State is one of them, as the Nittany Lions lead the nation in D-I experience, while the Horns sit sixth, per KenPom. 

Shrewsberry’s lineup features four super seniors and one senior that play over 25 minutes a game, while freshman forward Kebba Njie is the sole member of the regular rotation who does not have significant collegiate experience. The Lions are led by super senior guard Jalen Pickett, who has amassed over 2,000 points during three seasons at Siena and two at Penn State. 

Similarly, Texas’ rotation includes three graduate students, two super seniors, and a senior. Texas is the only team to currently have two 2,000 point scorers in the form of graduate guard Marcus Carr and senior forward Timmy Allen.

Familiar theme: lights out shooting

After facing the nation’s leading 3-point shooting team in the first round, Texas now prepares for a Penn State team that hits 39.0% of their threes, the 5th best mark in Division I. In their first round victory against the Aggies, Penn State hit 13 of 22 threes, including eight triples from senior guard Andrew Funk. 

Texas was able to limit Colgate to just 20% from three through aggressive closeouts that prevented the Raiders from getting their feet set. The Horns will have a similar task in front of them on Saturday, with five of Penn State’s rotation players averaging more than 37% from three. 

Benches of different lengths

Throughout the season, Texas’ rotation has remained relatively consistent. Beyond the starting lineup, the Horns have graduate guard Sir’Jabari Rice off the bench, who was named Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year and closes most games. In addition to Rice, freshman guard Arterio Morris, graduate forward Brock Cunningham and senior forward Christian Bishop are meaningful contributors. With a nine-man rotation, interim head coach Rodney Terry has as deep of a squad as anyone in the nation.

Penn State, on the other hand, plays a tight rotation with only six Lions racking up meaningful minutes down the stretch. While Shrewsberry was able to give his reserves more playing time in a comfortable win against Texas A&M, Penn State prefers to run its starters throughout. With fatigue and foul trouble on the table in a close game, Texas may have an ace in its pocket on the bench.