The last time these two teams played, the No. 19 Michigan State Spartans were flying high. They’d found their way into the rankings after starting the season unranked, and had lost only to Baylor and Kansas along the way.
The Spartans made quick work on the Nittany Lions, using their ability to move up and down the court, leading to a whopping 31 fast break points. All night long, the Nittany Lions could only manage to watch as the Spartans ran circles around them.
Since then, both teams have seen their share of ups and downs. Michigan State rose as high as No. 10, but stumbled all the way back down to their current No. 11 ranking, as the losses have started to mount, and teams have figured out how to stifle their offense.
On the other hand, Penn State went on a bit of a streak just after that Michigan State game, winning three of their four total Big Ten games to start the year. Since then, as we all know, it has been an exercise in coming so close, yet so far. With both teams coming off more losses than they’d like, it’ll be interesting to see who looks more desperate for a win in this one.
Scouting The Opposition
For as bad as the game looked the first time around, only Marcus Bingham Jr. (12 points), Gabe Brown (15 points), and Tyson Walker (10 points) scored in double figures. Michigan Speed, and their ability to not only have an answer to anything Penn State did, but an immediate answer at that, was the real factor in this game.
The Spartans had a nice showing from three the last time around, hitting on 42.9% of their shots. Penn State, on the other hand, had an anemic 25% outing. If the Lions want to ensure they don’t see a repeat of the last game, they need to make sure those two numbers are more even.
Michigan State, overall, didn’t do anything special beyond that. Fast break and timely three-point shooting was enough to get Penn State out of sorts and never look back. The formula for the second game needs to be the exact opposite for the Lions.
What To Watch For
They haven’t won every time, but so far Penn State has played incredibly well in the second leg of the two games series they’ve played to date (with the obvious exception being the debacle at Indiana). Can the same happen with the Spartans? Can it lead to a win? If Penn State is able to slow down Michigan State, and force contested shots as opposed to the freebies they were getting last time, they should have a shot in this game.
Greg Lee has been a key to Penn State’s wins in Big Ten Play. His game against the Spartans was the first this season. Can he come back again to face Michigan State once more? It would be a boost if he could.
Last, but not least, fouls started to mount for the Nittany Lions by the end of the first game (Sam Sessoms and Jalen Pickett each had four). This made any semblance of an offense even harder to achieve as the go-to point scorers played in fear of fouling out. Forcing Michigan State into foul trouble instead would go a long way in deciding the game.
My brain says no, but my heart says yes. It will be a challenge for sure, but Penn State plays with more urgency than Michigan State, and they avoid the sweep against the Spartans. Penn State 66, Michigan State 65