By Francis Mizner:
Penn State looks to continue its impressive start to the 2022-23 season with a game against Big East opponent Butler. The Nittany Lions host the Bulldogs for the seventh-annual Gavitt Tipoff Games; a series that started in 2015, in which eight games are played between the Big Ten and Big East Conference. Penn State is 2-1 in Gavitt Games; the last game was a victory against Georgetown, 81-66. The Nittany Lions look to add to that 2-0 record against Butler.
November 14th will be the third time Penn State matches up against Butler in program history. The last time the two met was back in 1992, and Penn State won in a nail-biter 67-64. Both Penn State and Butler scored over 85 points in their home opener, giving up no more than 70 points on the defensive side of the ball.
Second-year Coach Micah Shrewsberry will face his former team for the first time. Shrewsberry, who previously worked as an assistant coach with Butler, helped the Bulldogs reach the NCAA tournament twice in his four-year tenure.
Penn State and Butler have gone head to head in the recruiting field as they’ve pursued many of the same players, one being Freshman Center Kebba Njie. Butler first offered the 6′ 8″ four-star before he committed to Penn State, and now Nije appears to be a big part of the team Penn State is building.
The Bulldogs opened their season up against New Orleans, winning with a dominant performance of 89-53. Transfer C Manny Bates secured the double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds, and G Chuck Harris added 17 points. Butler had an underwhelming performance from the perimeter as they shot 4/24; however, they were 56.3% overall from the field.
The Bulldogs controlled the glass with 33 total rebounds and 15 turnovers. If Butler continues to get second-chance points as they did against New Orleans, it could be a long night for the Nittany Lions who lack height.
As for Penn State, they are coming off two one-sided wins against Winthrop and Loyola Maryland, both won by 25-point deficits. Penn State is shooting 50% from behind the arc and 56.4% from the field. They are led by senior G Jalen Pickett, averaging 14.0 points a game, and three-point shooters Andrew Funk and Myles Dread.
Defensively the team lacks height, but they accommodate that with a firm interior zone defense that forces you to shoot, which has seemed to work thus far. The Nittany Lions are very well-coached and don’t often turn the ball over or foul. The primary focus for Penn State will be to continue knocking down shots progressively and winning the turnover battle.
Penn State and Butler are two teams whose strengths are opposite, so whoever does the better job of forcing the opposition to become one-dimensional should come out on top. Butler is a tall team that could hurt you in the paint and get the necessary turnovers. On the other hand, if Penn State has a hot shooting hand, Butler could be in for a long night, and their quick-pace offense could tire you out if you don’t have depth.
The biggest problem I see for Penn State is stopping Manny Bates. With his combined height and strength, he could be a bully in the paint and a nightmare for defenders. On the flip side, I believe Penn State will be fine if they can neutralize his touches. I see a big game coming for one of Penn State’s freshmen, providing a spark for the Nittany Lions. Although early in the season, this game appears to be a good test for both teams. This intense matchup should prepare them for the heavily contested conference play that lies ahead