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Penn State at Michigan State Preview: Spartans Firing on All Cylinders

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Tom Izzo's team is hitting its stride late in the season.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Michigan State Spartans (23-5, 10-5)
When: Sunday, Noon ET
Where: Breslin Center
TV: BTN
KenPom Rank: 1
KenPom Line: MSU -19
Enemy Blog: The Only Colors

Penn State has plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves. Sure, the last five minutes against Nebraska, in which the Nittany Lions scored just one point, is cause for concern, but they've still won three in a row and four of their last five. It's no coincidence that Shep Garner is shooting 54% from deep (14-26) in those last three wins, and they'll need plenty of Garner heading into East Lansing.

Aside from losses to Iowa and Nebraska in mid-January, Michigan State has been clowning visitors in the Breslin Center. In four home conference wins against teams not named Rutgers, Sparty has won by an average of 16.25 points. Throw in a 92-65 thrashing of Penn State at the BJC, and you have the recipe for a blowout.

Scouting The Opposition

Denzel Valentine is completely healthy again, and it shows. The National Player of the Year candidate completely schooled Indiana on Feb 14th with 30 points and 13 assists, and has the Spartans back up to the number one spot in KenPom as of Saturday afternoon. Bryn Forbes hasn't cooled down at all since his 6-8 day from behind the arc in State College, leading the conference in three-point shooting at 49%.

Sparty's senior class is rounded out by Matt Costello, who is quietly having an outstanding season as Izzo's resident junkyard dog. Costello is 10th nationally in offensive rebound rate, corralling 15.6% of available missed shots. He and freshman stud Deyonta Davis anchor the frontcourt for a team that ranks first nationally in defensive field goal percentage. In short, this Michigan State team is loads better than last year's Final Four squad. Feel free to join me in picking Sparty to get to Houston in April.

What To Watch For

Penn State was at their offensive best against Nebraska when Garner and Brandon Taylor were combining on the pick and pop play. Both had great nights from the field and it seems like Pat Chambers has realized the effectiveness of that particular set because they went to it time and time again. Michigan State, of course, is a totally different animal than the Huskers on defense. Penn State will need more than 15 points from the rest of their roster in order to compete in East Lansing.

Josh Reaves will likely get the unenviable duties of guarding Valentine, and it would behoove the freshman to stay out of foul trouble. Reaves picked up four fouls in just nine minutes against Andrew White III on Thursday night.

Prediction

Penn State's shot at an NIT bid is very real if they can find a way to get two more wins in the regular season. Those hopes will ride on back-to-back home games to close out the season against Northwestern and Illinois, because I don't know of any team that could go into Breslin and outplay or outwork Michigan State right now. Chambers wouldn't ever concede a game, but the goals for this game are as follows: limit the damage and keep spirits high heading into an important final week. Michigan State 83, Penn State 65.