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Penn State vs. Michigan State Preview: Denzel Valentine is Back to Crush Your Dreams

Well, at least we have heart.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Michigan State Spartans (15-1, 2-1)
When: Sunday, 12 p.m. ET
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: Big Ten Network
KenPom Rank: 5
Vegas Line: MSU -10
Enemy Blog: The Only Colors

Oh man, okay. How do I always get stuck writing the previews for games in which Sparty is gonna kick our collective ass? I deserve a raise. Anyway, when we last saw Pat Chambers and co., they were busy giving Minnesota a paddlin' for the last ten minutes of a game. Everyone on the roster had solid nights, but we saw Payton Banks bust out for a career-high 24, and saw a very complete game from Davis Zemgulis as well.

Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, Sparty ain't no Gopher.

Scouting The Opposition

They're really, really, really good. The only weakness in the entire Michigan State squad might be that they don't force many turnovers. Despite ranking near the bottom of the country in forced turnover percentage and steals, they're the #11 defense by KenPom's defensive efficiency, and the number 14 offense. They're 21st in effective field goal percentage for, and 2nd against. Penn State's 46.8 eFG% ranks 273rd in the nation, for reference.

Denzel Valentine is arguably the best player in the country, the one through whom it all flows. He's been out hurt, and should be a gametime decision. However, he was medically cleared to play in MSU's win over Illinois and sat. That might be because the Illini suck this year, but he's not a guarantee. If he plays though, it all runs through him. He's a career 39% three point shooter, and in limited action has shot 53% from inside the arc this year. He also makes free throws at an 85% clip, has a 56.9 effective field goal percentage, the third best assist rate in the country, and the 65th best defensive rebound percentage despite being a 6'5" guard. He is an elite player in every sense of the word, and if he plays he is going to tear into Penn State, as he would any team in America.

Many will argue that Josh Reaves should cover Valentine, which is probably a good call as he's the best perimeter defender in the starting five. The problem then is that lights out shooting guard Bryn Forbes will ruin you from outside. Forbes shoots a ridiculous 47.4% from three, 81.6% from the stripe, and sports the nation's 43rd-best effective field goal percentage at 63.5%. The man is good at putting the ball in the basket from far away is what I'm getting at. Pair him up with Penn State's grotesque perimeter defense, especially if everyone is focused on stopping Valentine, and Forbes is primed for a huge day.

Fellow senior Matt Costello is only 6'9" as the starting center for MSU, but has elite offensive and defensive rebounding rates, shoots 77.6% from the line, and has a very solid block rate as well. Behind Costello, freshman Deyonta Davis is a monster. He's 6'11", and has the 4th-best block rate in the country at 13.1%(!!!!!!!). Expect Eron Harris to get significant minutes at the three in a small lineup. Harris essentially plays like a poor man's Valentine, and he along with Tum Tum Nairn will be two guys to look out for. This team is stacked.

What To Watch For

Michigan State plays at a similar tempo to Penn State, so the Nittany Lions are at less of a risk of getting sped up and losing themselves. Michigan State is also an incredible offense at that tempo, returning the best player on its squad and arguably in the country. The Spartans are looking to continue rolling, as their only loss has been against NPOTY candidate Jarrod Uthoff -vomits uncontrollably- and the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Look for Valentine to play limited minutes if Sparty goes up early, and to see if Pat Chambers decides to go with his one major advantage: size. Penn State is 59th in terms of effective height, while MSU is 210th. Brandon Taylor, Payton Banks, Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack, and maybe even a little Julian Moore action will all be needed in the paint if the Nittany Lions have a shot at the upset. That's easier said than done, of course. The Spartans are still 37th in the nation defending inside the arc despite playing a relatively small lineup. This school produced Draymond Green, remember.

Look to see if Davis Zemgulis' breakout can continue. The Lithuanian, whose DZ3 moniker seems ready to take over on the BJC PA once Brandon Taylor leaves, is playing more extensive, valuable minutes than many thought he would to this point. This is, obviously, a function of him playing well. He's shown ability to shoot the deep ball, attack the basket, and seems willing to screen off the ball and try and flow. The game will continue to slow down for him the more and more he adapts, but he seems to be a quick learner so far.

Finally, let's see what Shep Garner does as the main man against one of the two best teams he'll face all year. He's shot just 28.5% from three since his explosion against Colorado, and just 29.4% from two. Somewhat arbitrary endpoints, obviously, and Garner has shot 39% from three for the season (though just 37% from inside), but it'll be an interesting case study. Odds are he gets absolutely eaten alive by the nation's #5 defense against the deep ball as all have this season, but a solid game from Shep would be massive in terms of looking forward.


Penn State keeps it weirdly close early but loses the game by the end of the first half. They battle, but Michigan State's offense is too much and their defense paired with PSU's own shooting woes makes a comeback borderline impossible. Shep goes 3-17 from the field but at least half of the shots look like they should go in, Payton Banks puts up a double-double, Denzel Valentine plays 15 minutes, Bryn Forbes scores 23. Michigan State 77, Penn State 59