Penn State's brutal stretch of schedule continues today when it hosts Michigan State at 1:00 P.M. at the Bryce Jordan Center. You can catch the game on the Big Ten Network.
The Nittany Lions (8-6, 1-2) will be playing their second of five consecutive games against ranked opponents in the midst of a one win in five game drought. After today, Penn State will host Illinois before traveling to Ohio State and Purdue before hitting an easier set of games.
The Spartans (10-4, 2-0) bring a familiar cast of characters to Happy Valley. Durrell Summers leads the team in scoring at just over 15 points per game and both guard Kalin Lucas and forward Draymond Green average double figures. Korie Lucious and Delvon Roe also contribute at around seven points per game each.
Michigan State enters the game winner of four of its last five games, the last setback coming against No. 22 Texas at home three days before Christmas. Sparty's four losses this season have all come to ranked opponents. So far in conference, Michigan State has beaten Minnesota and Northwestern.
Keys to the game after the jump.
When Michigan State Has The Ball
- Penn State must rebound well in this game to have a chance. The Spartans are in the top-50 nationally in rebounding at a tick under 40 rebounds per game. Penn State only averages about 34. If the Lions are fortunate enough to force a stop on this team, they've got to finish it off, grab the rebound, and prevent Sparty from getting second and third chances. Purdue went to work on Penn State in its win at the Jordan Center the other night and Penn State couldn't keep it close in the second half. If things are going to change, the Lions have to put in 40 minutes on the glass.
- The Spartans have guards who can hit shots from any point on the floor. Penn State can't let them get open looks like they've let some other guys get recently or things will go down hill fast. The Lions should focus on defending the perimeter and allow Draymond Green to do the damage underneath rather than allowing Summers and Lucas light them up from deep.
- Michigan State averages 66% from the free throw line. Obviously, with a percentage like that, the Lions can't afford to give the Spartans anything easy. When in doubt, put them on the stripe.
When Penn State Has The Ball
- Get Jermaine Marshall the dang ball again. The red shirt freshman had a career-high 18 points against Purdue on Wednesday night and was a real spark for Penn State off the bench that it had been lacking for the early part of the season. It's important that he get touches today, and to have him supplementing the regular scorers of Battle, Jeff Brooks and David Jackson.
- It sounds cliche, but Talor Battle needs to make big shots. When Penn State last beat Michigan State at the Breslin Center in 2009, Battle and Stanley Pringle continually bombarded the Spartans with crushing blows every time they tried to mount a run on the Lions. If Battle can work some of that magic today at home, Penn State might have a chance to break their opponents' spirit and steal a win.
- Penn State needs to play a clean game. Michigan State already defends very well and turning the ball over will only make things snowball. Playing smart and keeping their hands on the ball should be a top priority for the Lions.
Penn State's upperclassmen know Michigan State very well. They've been playing against names like Lucas, Summers and Green for a long time so there will be no secrets here. If the older Lions play hard and smart, they'll have a chance to win like they did their freshman and sophomore years. If they don't, well then Michigan State's superior skill and coaching will probably prevail.