No. 20 Penn State vs. No. 16 Michigan State Preview: Nittany Lions Enter the Homestretch

By Matt de Bear on March 3, 2020 at 12:50 pm
Michigan State Forward Xavier Tillman
© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
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Michigan State Spartans
20-9 (12-6 Big Ten)
Roster / Schedule
7:00 p.m. ET - Tuesday, March 3
Bryce Jordan Center
University Park, PA
Watch Info: BTN I Gametracker
KenPom Rank: 7
Vegas Line: Michigan State -1.5

By just about any measure, this has been a successful basketball season for Patrick Chambers and Penn State. The Nittany Lions have spent 10 weeks in the AP Poll, tying a program best from 24 seasons ago. They climbed as high as No. 9 in February behind an eight-game winning streak, and have claimed wins in places like Crisler Center, Breslin Center, and Mackey Arena. 

Losses in three of the last four games have all but ended hopes for a stunning Big Ten title, but a top-four finish and double bye in the conference tournament are well within reach. It all comes down to the season's final two games, starting tonight vs. No. 16 Michigan State.

Projected Starters
Penn State   Michigan state
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Jr. 1 Cassius Winston - 6'1" - Sr.
Myles Dread - 6'4" - So. 2 Rocket Watts - 6'2" - Fr.
Seth Lundy - 6'6" - Fr. 3 Aaron Henry - 6'6" - So.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Sr. 4 Malik Hall - 6'7" - Fr.
John Harrar - 6'9" - Jr. 5 Xavier Tillman - 6'8" - Jr.

scouting report

Tom Izzo appears to have his Spartans peaking at the right time. After struggling with consistency for much of the Big Ten season, Michigan State has won four of its last five contests, including a huge road win over Maryland last weekend.

Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman have been the key cogs much of the season, but recently Izzo has found secondary options in Aaron Henry and Rocket Watts. Freshman forward Malik Hall was especially big against the Terps on Saturday, putting up 16 points, one off of a career high.

keys to the game

In the first matchup between these two teams in East Lansing, Penn State got 25 points from Lamar Stevens and 20 from Myreon Jones. Stevens also grabbed seven boards, with senior forward Mike Watkins putting up 10 points and eight rebounds of his own. The Lions did that all while keeping everyone other than Cassius Winston from going off. The All-Big Ten guard had 25 points and nine assists, but no other Spartan had more than nine points (Tillman).

The recipe for success on Tuesday in Happy Valley has to be the same. Jones returned to the lineup as a reserve on Saturday vs. Iowa, so it may be too much to expect a repeat performance, but Penn State will need him to continue to rediscover his game. Getting a bigger contribution from some combination of Myles Dread, Seth Lundy, Izaiah Brockington, and Mike Watkins will go a long way to making up for what the Lions are likely to miss from Jones as he gets his legs back.

More importantly, Watkins, Stevens, and the rest of the Nittany Lions will need to hammer the glass and limit second chance points for MSU. Penn State did an outstanding job of this in East Lansing, limiting the Spartans to just seven offensive boards.

Prediction

Three Nittany Lion seniors will be honored tonight, including soon-to-be all-time leading scorer Stevens, fan favorite Watkins, and grad transfer Curtis Jones. Both teams have plenty to play for, so this one should be nip-and-tuck from start to finish. There may not be a hotter team in the Big Ten right now than Michigan State, but it has felt like the Lions were close to regaining their stride in recent games, despite the lack of wins. Stevens and Watkins go out with a big win in front of the home crowd. Penn State 68, Michigan State 64

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