Game Preview: Men’s Basketball vs. Michigan State
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.