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Penn State vs Michigan State Preview: The Big Ten Visits Philadelphia

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The Palestra should be rocking for a highly-anticipated match-up, and a homecoming for several Penn State players

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Opponent Summary

Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Who When: Where: TV: KenPom Rank: Record: Vegas Line:
Indiana Hoosiers 6:30 PM EST, Wednesday, Februrary 1 Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Indiana) BTN 39 14-8, 4-5 Big Ten tba

Will the return to Philadelphia benefit the many Nittany Lions returning to their hometown, or will their emotions get the better of them? On national television, following a tough road loss, and in front of family and friends, there will be no shortage of motivation for Chambers’ already passionate squad. Penn State will look to improve to .500 in the B1G and hand the Michigan State Spartans their first conference loss of the season.

Scouting the Opposition

It seems every year Michigan State is a time-bomb waiting to go off. Everybody knows they will pull it together by March, it’s just a matter of when. Injuries, and heavy usage of a trio of true freshmen uncharacteristic of most Izzo teams has led to some growing pains early on. An extremely difficult schedule didn’t help, with 4 of their 5 losses coming against current Top 25 teams (3 in the Top 10), the outlier being a surprising home loss to Northeastern. Don’t let that loss fool you though, the Spartans are off to a 3-0 start in the B1G beating Minnesota, Northwestern, and Rutgers. They won the first two without freshman phenom Miles Bridges, but he made his return against Rutgers playing 17 minutes while scoring 6 and grabbing 6 rebounds. It sounds as if Bridges’ minutes will be limited again to around 18 in Philadelphia.

Freshman Nick Ward has been playing the five due to injuries to his teammates, and despite being undersized he has performed well. Per KenPom, Ward is drawing fouls at the best rate in the country, so Watkins will have to use his restraint while going for blocks in the paint. Likewise, if Penn State can get Ward into foul trouble, the Spartans are lacking in big men and will be forced into some bad match-ups.

Cassius Winston has performed admirably thus far, leading the NCAA in assist rate. His play has warranted a starting role alongside Eron Harris in the back court. Neither Winston nor Harris are shooting lights out from 3, but they know their strengths and will look to set up Bridges and Ward inside for easier buckets. The Nittany Lions will need to limit turnovers, as all three guards for MSU (Winston, Harris, and Nairn) are lethal in transition.

What to Watch For

Initially it looked like the match-up between Lamar Stevens and Miles Bridges would be the highlight. That will certainly be something to look out for, but it’s just one of three match-ups we’re likely to see between freshmen. Injuries to forwards Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling means that Mike Watkins will be battling inside against the talented 6’8” Nick Ward. If one or the other gets into foul trouble, it could shift the balance of the game. The final duel will be between two freshman point guards in Penn State’s Tony Carr, and Michigan State’s Cassius Winston. One edge that Carr and Stevens have over their opponents is experience playing in the Palestra. The last time those two (along with Nazeer Bostick) were there, they captured the Philadelphia Catholic League title.

Prediction

The way both teams play, this is going to be some ugly basketball (which Penn State games aren’t?). For Penn State to win, they will need to work the ball inside offensively and not settle for bad jump-shots. Conversely, on defense they will have to limit the Spartans’ effectiveness inside, and try and force MSU’s guards to beat them with jumpers. Foul trouble to Watkins or Moore could make this a long afternoon for Penn State, but the same could be said for Ward and Michigan State. Going against the grain I’m going to say Chambers and Co. find a way to gut this one out, as Garner and Watkins return to full form after their illnesses over New Years.

Penn State 70, Michigan State 68