|#9 Michigan State Spartans (19-3, 8-1)
|The Only Colors
Penn State enters the second half of the conference schedule trending up. Winners of three in a row, the Lions have finally seemed to find themselves (and some good luck) at the end of games. DJ Newbill has been lethal recently after winning the conference's player of the week honors. His steady presence has helped the supporting underclassmen turn their play around, especially Brandon Taylor and Jordan Dickerson.
While it's seemingly too late to even consider postseason berths after the 0-6 start in conference play, an unexpected upset tonight would be another important step to righting the past wrongs of this season.
Scouting The Opposition
I don't think there's much debate to be had that Michigan State is the class of the Big Ten, when healthy. However, Tom Izzo's club has been battling through injuries all season long. Adreian Payne's lingering foot injury has especially been a thorn in their side, as he has missed the last seven games. What a great time to return to the court than against Penn State! All signs point to Payne playing tonight, but how long he'll be in and how healthy he'll look remains to be seen. Payne has given PSU major problems in the past, but hopefully his bad foot and Dickerson's improved defense can minimize his dominating presence.
MSU is also without athletic wing Branden Dawson who broke his hand in a game at Indiana. Dawson caused major nightmares for Penn State in their conference opener, scoring 20 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. He often finished without much resistance around the basket, whether off a rebound or great look from one of his teammates. His absence can only be considered a positive for PSU.
That said, the Spartans' backcourt is very much alive and well. Gary Harris has scored over 20 points in four of his last five games and continues to regain his stroke from beyond the 3-point line. Keith Appling as held his status as the best point guard in the conference, averaging 15 points and 5 assists a game with only two turnovers. Neither had a superb game in the first matchup this season, but both are extremely difficult to guard one-on-one.
Sparty is coming off a loss to an average-at-best Georgetown team that was due more to poor scheduling than poor play. The Spartans' decided to partake in a non-conference game at Madison Square Garden in the middle of conference play. It didn't help matters that the game came after losing a nail-biter to Michigan and going on the road for an exhausting win against Iowa.
The incredible talent in the backcourt on both sides will be fun to watch again, but the first game between these two teams was determined in the post. While Brandon Taylor had an efficient 18 points on 11 shots and Donovon Jack converted three 3-pointers, they were completely outclassed on defense by MSU's superior bigs (34-18 advantage in points in the paint). Michigan State also dominated the offensive glass, bringing in 15 offensive rebounds (42.9%) that led to 15 second chance points.
All eyes will be on Jack, Taylor, Dickerson and Ross Travis, as they try to contain MSU's frontline. Dickerson especially will have the assignment of slowing down Payne when he is in the game. If he can be successful, Penn State could have a chance.
While Penn State has been hot and some players are turning their season's around, you don't expect this program to win on the road against the conference's premiere programs. It miraculously happened last week at Value City Arena. It is highly unlikely to happen again tonight.
Penn State covers but falters down the stretch in a 77-67 loss.