Penn State at Michigan State Preview: Can the Lions Make It Two in a Row in East Lansing?

By Brad Peterson on February 9, 2021 at 11:12 am
Michigan State Basketball
© Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
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Michigan State Spartans
9-7 (3-7 Big Ten)
Roster / Schedule
7:00 p.m. ET - Tuesday, Feb 9
Breslin Center
East Lansing, MI
Watch Info: ESPN2 I Gametracker
KenPom Rank: 62
Vegas Line: Michigan State -3

The Nittany Lions (7-8, 4-7, #28 NET) will try to make it two straight wins as they take on Michigan State at the Breslin Center Tuesday night on ESPN2. Penn State grabbed a very ugly, but important win over Maryland last time out (55-50 final). The Lions won despite shooting just 32% from the field and 22% from behind the arc. The team’s FT shooting, 16-18 for an amazing 89%, including two from Wheeler with 23 seconds to play, helped lift the team to the win. Penn State’s defensive pressure was the key, forcing 16 Maryland turnovers and holding the Terps without a field goal for the last 7:32 of the game.

Penn State’s next opponent, Michigan State (9-7, 3-7, #91 NET), snapped a four-game losing streak with an equally ugly 66-56 win over Nebraska Saturday. The Spartans won despite a season-high 22 turnovers. Joshua Langford led Michigan State in scoring with a season-high 18 points, including 4-6 from 3. Aaron Henry was the only other MSU player to reach double figures, adding 16. The Spartans forced 17 Husker TOs and held Nebraska to just 36% shooting from the field and 18% from behind the arc while outrebounding the visitors 47-34.

This is the most lopsided series of all Penn State’s B1G opponents, which shouldn’t be surprising with the tremendous success of Michigan State under Hall of Fame Head Coach Tom Izzo the last 25-plus years. The Spartans hold a 38-9 advantage all-time, winning 81% of the games. The teams split their two games last year, each winning on the other team’s home court. Penn State won 75-70 in East Lansing on Feb. 4, 2020, behind 24 from Lamar Stevens and 20 from Myreon Jones. The Spartans won 79-71 at the BJC on March 3. Stevens (15) and Jones (16) again led the Lions in scoring in the loss.

PROJECTED STARTERS

Projected Starters
Penn State   Michigan state
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Sr. 1 Foster Loyer - 6'0" - Jr.
Izaiah Brockington - 6'4" - Jr. 2 Joshua Langford - 6'5" - Sr.
Myreon Jones - 6'3" - Jr. 3 Aaron Henry - 6'6" - Jr.
Seth Lundy - 6'6" - So. 4 Joey Hauser - 6'9" - Jr.
John Harrar - 6'9" - Sr. 5 Marcus Bingham - 6'11" - Jr.

SCOUTING REPORT

Much like Maryland, Michigan State is a team still trying to figure out how to play after losing two great players in Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman. Izzo has tried numerous starting line-ups and 10 players average more than 10 minutes per game as he looks for the right combinations on the floor. He has commented that “Langford, Henry, and Hauser need to lead and play to their potential” for the Spartans to be successful.

After missing nearly all the past two years due to a left foot injury, fifth-year senior guard Joshua Langford is close to being the player he was prior to his injury and is one player Coach Izzo can consistently count on. Langford is only averaging 9.9 PPG but has been in double figures in six of the team’s last seven games as he rounds into shape after rehabbing from his injury woes. Langford is a pure shooter and hits on 37% from the field and 38% from 3. Neutralizing his ability to score from behind the arc will be key for the Nittany Lions.

Aaron Henry leads the Spartans in scoring at 14 PPG shooting 44% from the floor, but only 27% from deep. Henry is smooth and explosive with an excellent mid-range game. Think Izaiah Brockington but not as good from behind the arc. Henry is a stat-sheet stuffer who also leads the team in assists, steals, and blocks. His athleticism will be hard to contain.

Marquette transfer Joey Hauser adds 10.5 PPG. The 6’9” forward makes 48% of his shots from the field and will be a force to be reckoned with on the inside, as he leads the team with just over seven rebounds per game. Hauser also can step out and shoot the 3 at a respectable 34% clip.

Rocket Watts is now coming off the bench after starting earlier in the year. As you would expect by his nickname, he has speed to burn and PSU’s defensive rotation will need to be aware of Watts pushing the ball up the floor quickly, even on made baskets. The key is staying in front of him and not letting him drive to the basket. Make him shoot jumpers, as he is a paltry 29% from 3 for the year. He also can be turnover prone so the great on-ball pressure D we are accustomed to from Jamari Wheeler will be key. He is part of a three-player rotation at PG with Foster Loyer and A.J. Hoggard.

Michigan State scores 72 PPG on the year and gives up 71 PPG. The keys for the Spartans are rebounding and limiting turnovers. They hold a +4 rebounding margin so John Harrar, among others, will need to be strong on the glass.

KEYS TO THE GAME

  • Ratchet up the pressure. Uncharacteristically, the Spartans turn the ball over 14 times per game, the worst in the conference. Forcing live-ball turnovers and turning those TOs into points will be key for PSU walking out of the Breslin Center with a W.
  • Seth’s scoring. Over the last three games, Seth Lundy is a combined 4-21 from the floor and 2-16 from behind the arc. At this point, he doesn’t resemble the player we saw earlier in the year have 32 and 23 in back-to-back games against VCU and Seton Hall. His production lately has not equaled his talent and for the blue and white to win this game and make a late-season push for an NCAA tournament berth, PSU will need more of the confident Lundy we saw earlier in the season.
  • Sam I am. The Spartans have been burned by opposing point guards consistently this year, so this would be a great game for Sam Sessoms to reach double figures in scoring. His production off the bench has waned in recent games but going up against a defensively deficient Loyer should help him, and Wheeler, get into the scoring column.

PREDICTION

I’m not sure when, if ever, Penn State has played Michigan State in February and the Spartans were looking up at PSU in the standings. This Michigan State team is inconsistent, turnover-prone, and lacks a true leader…in other words, they really miss Cassius Winston. For Penn State to continue building its resume for a potential at-large bid this is a critical game, and it’s just as critical for Sparty. The Spartans are 7-2 at home this year, and while the Izzone won’t be packed with green and white-clad roaring fans, winning at the Breslin Center will take a supreme, 40-minute effort. You can count on an Izzo-coached team to start peaking about this time of year as they search for the program’s 24th straight NCAA Tournament berth. That peak, however, will be delayed as PSU’s pressure D will lead to too many turnovers for the Spartans to overcome and the Lions will enjoy the flight home with a hard-earned W.

Penn State 74, Michigan State 72

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