Game Preview: Men’s Basketball vs. Michigan State

Audio/Story posted February 4, 2020 in CommRadio, Sports by Zach Donaldson

Andre Magaro, Jake Starr, Andrew Destin and Preston Shoemaker preview Tuesday night's exciting clash between No. 22 Penn State and No. 16 Michigan State.

The No. 22 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions have won four straights against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana and Nebraska. After a mini skid in mid-January, the Nittany Lions are back to playing at a high level, especially defensively. They’re riding some momentum coming into this showdown with No. 16 Michigan State.

On the other hand, the Spartans are coming off of a crushing one-point loss to Wisconsin. Back in front of their home fans at the Breslin Center where they have yet to lose this season, they’re going to be looking to get back on track.

With both teams in the thick of the Big Ten title hunt, a victory for either squad would be massive.

Keys to the Game for Penn State

Michigan State is one of the top teams in college basketball, but Penn State has the leadership, depth and talent to compete with the Spartans, and just about any team for that matter.

In this matchup, first and foremost, it’s going to be essential that Penn State plays a full 40 minutes of basketball. Facing a premier opponent like Michigan State on its home floor, coming out firing and finishing is important. The Nittany Lions have a long history of having difficulty winning at Michigan State, and this time it’s not going to be any easier. It’s going to take the Nittany Lions’ to be locked in from start to finish.

Penn State leads the Big Ten in steals by a large margin, averaging 8.5 per-game, which is also good for 28th in the NCAA. Jamari Wheeler is the cog on defense, and he sits atop of the Big Ten himself with 1.7 steals per-game individually. He and the rest of Penn State’s guards are going to have their hands full with Cassius Winston. However, if there is anyone in college basketball who can stick with Winston and disturb him on offense, it’s Wheeler. He has some special defensive abilities. Flustering Winston and winning the turnover battle is what’s going to give Penn State the edge.

From the jump, Penn State’s identity has been its defense. Penn State is a team that does an excellent job playing as a collective unit on defense. Creating steals, providing help defense and crashing the boards are things that Penn State does as well as any team in college basketball. More times than not, defense turns into transition offense for the Nittany Lions too, which is something they excel at and are also going to need versus a stingy Michigan State defense that doesn’t allow a high field goal percentage.

Keys to the Game for Michigan State

Michigan State is one of the best in the country at holding the opposition to a low shooting percentage. It ranks first in the Big Ten, and tenth in all of college basketball, holding opponents to an average of 37% from the field. Penn State’s offense tends to stall in the halfcourt at times. It’s been better as of late, but it could be something that the Spartans look to exploit with their already impressive shot defense.

The Spartans’ Xavier Tillman is coming off of one of his worst games of the season, and he’s going to need to make his presence felt down low in this one. Penn State tends to be at best its opponent when it win the battle on the boards. Mike Watkins has the ability to change the course of a game with his elite rebounding and shot blocking ability, and even more so if he’s getting his way on the offensive end.

Tillman is going to need to box out, be tough and active on the glass on both ends of the floor. Standout sophomore forward Aaron Henry is likely going to be matched up on Lamar Stevens for most of the game. Containing Watkins and Stevens in the post, and in the paint is going to be a big key for Michigan State.

As mentioned previously, slowing down Cassius Winston, who’s averaging 18 points per-game for the Spartans is going to be a tall task to handle for Penn State’s guards. Perhaps, a larger task than any they have had to handle up to this point in the season. As the Spartans’ superstar, Winston is going to need to show up and show out.

Game Prediction

Penn State hasn’t beaten Michigan State since 2017, and one has to venture all the way back to 2011 to find the last Nittany Lions victory before that. In that 2017 victory, Stevens as a freshman had a game high 18 points. Although it was at the Palestra, a neutral sight, Stevens propels the team to victory once again, this time in East Lansing as a senior.

Penn State 78, Michigan State 75


Zach Donaldson is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email

About the Contributors

Preston Shoemaker's photo

Preston Shoemaker

Senior / Journalism

Preston Shoemaker is a senior Bellisario Fellow from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania and is majoring in broadcast journalism. He is a director, play-by-play broadcaster and writer for the CommRadio sports department. He is also an executive producer for the Centre County Report and the newly formed After the Whistle. Preston is the Broadcast Assistant for the Altoona Curve, Double-A Affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he serves as a play-by-play broadcaster and works with media relations. Preston aspires to become a professional play-by-play broadcaster. To contact him, send an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or follow on Twitter @prestonshoe21.

Andrew Destin's photo

Andrew Destin

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Andrew Destin is a senior from Saratoga, California majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. Destin currently creates weekly content for CommRadio, as well as broadcasts and beat writes at live sporting events. Destin also works for the Big Ten Network as a play-by-play broadcaster for various sports on campus. Destin has perviously interned for the Santa Cruz Sentinel as a sports writer, for WPSU as a radio news reporter and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as a sports writer. You can contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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Jake Starr

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Jake Starr is a soon-to-be graduate from Penn State. He has spent the last year and a half as the general manager of CommRadio, where he helped oversee all seven departments and over 200 members. Prior to that, Jake worked as the station’s news director. In addition, he is a play-by-play broadcaster with experience calling nine sports across various outlets. In addition to calling games for CommRadio, Jake has called games for Big Ten Plus and ESPN+ for Bucknell University. For the last two summers, he has worked in summer collegiate baseball. Most recently, Jake served as a broadcaster for the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod Baseball League. You can follow Jake on Twitter @jstarr1999 and email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)!

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Andre Magaro

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Andre Magaro is a senior from Enola, Pennsylvania majoring in broadcast journalism. He is one of CommRadio’s two student general managers. It’s there that Andre does play-by-play broadcasting of Penn State sporting events, and helps with the everyday operation of Penn State’s student-run radio station Andre is also a sports anchor and reporter for the Centre County Report, in addition to doing play-by-play for B1G+ as well. In the past, he has completed a broadcast internship in the Northwoods League for the Kalamazoo Growlers, provided feature articles and game day social media coverage of Penn State Men’s Soccer for Penn State Athletics, and produced articles on Penn State sports for Armchair Media. He can be contacted via email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and on Twitter @andre_magaro.

Zach Donaldson's photo

Zach Donaldson

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Zach is a senior from Downingtown, Pennsylvania and is an aspiring broadcast journalism major. Zach is an editor for CommRadio and additionally a member of the CommRadio Sports department. Zach is a producer, broadcaster and beat writer for various live Penn State sporting events. Zach also co-hosts a weekly talk show, Sports with a Z (SWAZ) on CommRadio. The show airs live every Monday from 8:45-9:45. Some of his interests aside from CommRadio include watching sports, working out and listening to a variety of music. He can be contacted via email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), and you can find him on Twitter @zachdonaldson_.