Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Virginia Cavaliers Preview and Pick – Point Spread – Betting Odds

Penn State Nittany Lions (4-2 SU, 1-3-1 ATS) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (4-2 SU, 2-2 ATS), 7:00 p.m. EST, Monday, November 30, 2009, John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, Va. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Penn State +6/Virginia -6
Over/Under: N/A at time of print (8:34AM EST)

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge gets underway Monday night as the Virginia Cavaliers host the Penn State Nittany Lions in a battle between two teams in the lower part of their respective conferences desperately needing an extra quality win before conference play begins.

Former Washington State head coach Tony Bennett took over this year at Virginia, a team that finished last place in the ACC last season. The Cavaliers returned all of their key players and are trying to move up towards the middle of the pack in the ACC. The Cavaliers are led by sophomore combo guard Sylven Landesberg, who is one of the best players in the ACC.

The Cavaliers’ four wins this season are against Longwood, Rider, Oral Roberts and Cleveland State. The 33-point win over Rider was particularly impressive after the Broncs had won at Mississippi State during the first week of the season, but that win doesn’t look as good now after Rider has struggled mightily since the win over Mississippi State. Virginia’s losses are against South Florida and Stanford, so the Cavaliers don’t have any bad losses. Those two teams aren’t great teams, but they are both decent major conference teams. Virginia had the lead for much of the Stanford game before losing by five. The South Florida loss was by 17, but South Florida is much improved and has played very well this season.

The Cavaliers haven’t really been at full strength yet this season. Calvin Baker missed the first game of the season with an injury, as did Assane Sene in the first three games. Jamil Tucker hasn’t played yet because of personal reasons and it’s unknown when he will return.

Landesberg leads Virginia with 16.2 points and 2.8 assists per game. He’s also second on the team in rebounds with 4.7 per game. Mike Scott leads the team in rebounds with 9.0 per game and is second in scoring with 12.5 points per game. Mustapha Farrakhan, Sammy Zeglinski and Jeff Jones are all averaging between 7.8 and 9.2 points per game.

Penn State narrowly missed an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament last year, but the Nittany Lions did win the NIT championship. They lost some very key players in Jamelle Cornley, Stanley Pringle and Danny Morrissey.

As a sophomore last season, Talor Battle emerged as one
of the best scoring guards in the Big Ten. He is back to lead the Nittany
Lions this season, but they really don’t have any other reliable scorers.
Battle leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists with 18.2 points,
6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. The most impressive part of that
is the rebounding because Battle is only a 6-foot, 170-pount guard. Battle
is shooting 14.5 shots per game, more than doubled anyone else on the team,
and is only making 23.7 percent of his 3-point attempts.

The Nittany Lions do have two decent big men in David Jackson and Jeff Brooks, but neither of them are very big compared to most Big Ten teams’ frontlines. The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Brooks is averaging 10.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, while the 6-foot-7, 210-pound Jackson is averaging 11.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. If PSU is going to be successful this season, Jackson and Brooks have to do a much better job on the boards.

Penn State’s only decent win thus far was a two-point win over Davidson. Its losses were to NC Wilmington and Tulane, a pair of decent mid-major teams.

Virginia is 2-0 ATS this season as a favorite and 2-0 ATS at home. Penn State has not covered in any of its last four games. Battle is day-to-day with the flu, but he is expected to play against Virginia.

Ryno’s Pick: Both of these teams could use a win like this, so this should be a very competitive game. Virginia has played well at home this season and has played better and faced stronger competition than Penn State. Once Bennett’s system is in place and the players buy into it, Virginia should be a much improved team. Penn State will struggle to score all season long because Battle is the only real offensive threat. Landesberg and Battle will be an exciting matchup in this one, but Virginia has much better players around its star guard than Penn State has. This game could be close for a while, but with the home crowd and the experience playing some tough games already, the Cavaliers should be able to pull away in the second half for an easy victory. Take Virginia -6.