|Who:||Michigan St. Spartans (14-3, 3-1)|
|Where:||Bryce Jordan Center|
|TV:||Big Ten Network|
Another Big Ten game, another disheartening performance from the Nittany Lions. Sunday's loss to Purdue re-emphasized this team's biggest weakness--making shots. Penn State shot a paltry 26% from the floor at Mackey Arena, their worst figure of the season. Open looks didn't fall and bunnies were missed, more so than usual, it seemed. While it's difficult to envision such poor shooting continuing for the rest of the season (fingers and toes crossed), the evidence pointing to the contrary isn't, well, there. Over the last three games, the Lions haven't shot better than 32% from the floor and haven't been able to crack the 55 point mark in conference play.
Michigan State, on the other hand, has shot over 40% in each of their Big Ten games thus far, having broken the 60 point mark in all four games. The slightly less bad news for Penn State is that this version of Sparty has allowed its opponents to shoot 44.8% in conference play, a mark that is 0.1% better than PSU's figure and good for third worst in the B1G. Though, it may not matter too much against a Lions squad that is shooting just 33.5% over the same span.
The Spartans put away a pesky Nebrasketball 66-55 on Sunday despite a subpar performance at the Breslin Center, and you can bet that Izzo has his team in the right frame of mind to beat the ever-living pulp out of a team like Penn State, even if he does have some sympathy(?) for his opponents. Michigan State has a big advantage on the inside, where Derrick Nix (9.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Adreian Payne (8.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.3 bpg) posses the strinth and linth to punish Sasa Borovnjak and whomever else Pat Chambers decides to throw in the post against the physically imposing duo. On the perimeter, point guard Keith Appling leads the team in scoring (13.8 ppg on 43% shooting) and Gary Harris has been as impressive a freshman as there is in the B1G, averaging 12.9 points and posting an upperclassman-like 54.4 eFG%.
The game of basketball ultimately boils down to putting the ball in the basket, and for Penn State to have a shot at pulling the upset here, it may be as simple as that. Their current shooting percentages wouldn't be good enough to beat low to mid-major opposition, let alone a top-five team in the best conference in the country. Defensively, the Lions are playing well enough to stay in games, but the poor shooting compounds every missed rotation or offensive rebound they give up.
If the scoring outputs of both D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall return to non-conference levels post-haste, that would certainly give the Lions a better chance at hanging with Sparty. Newbill's 9.5 ppg average in conference play suggests that his focus on point guard duty has taken away from his scoring focus, so perhaps...well, there may not be another solution to the team's point guard problems. Hoping that D.J. can be both Clark Kent and Superman simultaneously may be all Chambers can do at this point, considering the limited roster at hand.
Donovon Jack saw no game action for the first time since the Great Bucknell Win of 2012TM, but all indications are that this was mostly a motivational tactic by Chambers after the freshman reportedly turned in a sub-standard week of practice. Expect to see Jack return to the BJC floor if the tactic worked.
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