Penn State's loss to Michigan on Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center was a wicked blow to its NCAA Tournament hopes. The Wolverines were supposed to be one of the softer targets left on the schedule for the Lions, but rather than take care of business, the Nittany Lions lost a key game on the home floor.
Now, they're facing the nightmare scenario of having to beat a desperate Michigan State team in the Breslin Center tonight at 7:00 on the Big Ten Network to keep their postseason dreams alive.
Sure, the Spartans (13-10, 5-6) are down this year and the Lions (12-10, 5-6) have already beaten them once this season. For all its struggles, though, Michigan State is still very tough at home. Save for losses to Texas in December and Michigan late last month, the Spartans are unbeaten at home and have taken down teams like Wisconsin and Minnesota there already this conference season. If Penn State is going to win, it's going to take one of its best efforts of the season.
Forward Jeff Brooks' status remains uncertain for this game. Though Cammeron Woodyard filled in nicely for him against Michigan with 10 points and seven rebounds, the offense is clearly not as fluid without him and easier for defenses to defend, as they're not focused on having to stop him. Brooks was key in Penn State's upset of Michigan State last month with 17 points and 12 rebounds. If the Lions can get him back tonight, it'd be huge for their chances whether he's 100% or not.
Keys to the game after the jump.
When Penn State Has The Ball
- Andrew Jones had 16 points in the first game against the Spartans this season. Penn State will need that kind of offense from him again on the road, especially if frontcourt mate Brooks is out. The bench has proven incapable of creating offense, so the burden falls on guys like Jones and point guard Tim Frazier to carry more of the load with Brooks out.
- Penn State beat Michigan State last time out with a balanced attack. Four Lions finished in double figures and Jermaine Marshall came off the bench to score eight of his own. If everyone can contribute a little bit rather than counting on Talor Battle to make all the big shots, that makes for much healthier basketball.
- Broken record time: the bench needs to step up. Even if Brooks does see time this evening, he probably won't see as much as he normally would, which means more Billy Oliver and Cam Woodyard. Those two were never quite meant for primary bench roles, but the truth of the matter is that they're in them, and if Penn State is going to do anything, these two need to be contributors. If they don't start offering something tonight, any improvement they make down the stretch could be for naught.
When Michigan State Has The Ball
- Penn State did a nice job stopping Michigan State on the interior the last time. Delvon Roe and Draymond Green combined for only 12 points and the Lions won the rebounding margin 35-31 overall and 14-10 on the offensive boards. If Penn State can maintain that level of defense on those guys, the Spartan guards will be forced to make deeper shots.
- The bad news for Penn State in the above is that Michigan State's guards did hit big shots in the last game, and a bunch of them. Durrell Summers had 21 points on 4-7 shooting from the 3-point line and Kalin Lucas finished with 14 points. The Lions have to do a better job of guarding those two on the road, or even more of their shots are likely to drop.
Korie Lucious is gone, so that's one less threat the Lions have to worry about on the perimeter. That's bad news for he and the Spartans, but good news for Penn State. Look for Penn State to put more pressure on Summers and Lucas with him gone.
This game might ultimately come down to whether or not Jeff Brooks plays. If he does, even though he might not be 100%, I like Penn State's chances in this one, even on the road. The Lions have found ways to play well in East Lansing during the Talor Battle era, and getting Brooks back should be a nice emotional boost for the team. If he misses the game, well, we've seen all too often what a trainwreck this offense can become and I have a hard time seeing Penn State entering the Breslin Center and leaving with a win without him.