Penn State at Michigan State Preview: Lions Face Big Road Test

By Vincent Lungaro on December 11, 2021 at 12:02 pm
Feb 9, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions guard Sam Sessoms (3) shoots as Michigan State Spartans guard Foster Loyer (3) defends during the first half at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
© Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

In its first road game since the Nov. 15 loss to UMass, Penn State faces a big test. The Nittany Lions travel to East Lansing for a matchup with the No. 13-ranked Michigan State Spartans. 

The Spartans (8-2, 1-0) come into this weekend's game winners of three in a row, and have won eight of their last nine games since a season-opening loss to Kansas. The lone loss in those run of games was against defending national champions and likely next No. 1 team in the country in Baylor. 

The Nittany Lions (5-4, 0-1) rebounded Wednesday after back-to-back losses in a 74-54 win over Wagner. Michigan State represents a different kettle of fish, though, and might be the best team Penn State has faced thus far this season. 

PROjected starters

Penn state michigan state
G Sam Sessoms - 6'0 - Sr. G Tyson Walker - 6'0 - Jr.
G Jalen Pickett - 6'4 - Sr. G Max Christie - 6'6 - Fr.
F Seth Lundy - 6'6 - Jr. F Joey Hauser - 6'9 - Sr.
F Jalanni White - 6'8 - Sr. F Gabe Brown 6'8 - Sr.
F John Harrar - 6'9 - Sr. F Marcus Bingham Jr. - 7'0 - Sr.

Micah Shrewsberry has tinkered with his starting five quite a bit this season, while Tom izzo has rolled out a consistent opening group. Joey Hauser and Malik Hall have each taken turns with the starters, while the other four spots have been anchored by Walker, Christie, Brown and Bingham Jr. every game. 

Michigan State has a lot of length, and I anticipate Shrewsberry to try and match that by bringing Jalanni White into the starting lineup. Sam Sessoms came off the bench against Wagner and looked good doing so. But Penn State will need his scoring punch and playmaking abilities with the starters. He's also built a really good rapport with White on pick-and-rolls and lob actions, so expect to see those two share the court a lot regardless if they are starters or not. 

series history

Michigan State has dominated this series since Penn State joined the Big Ten back in the early 90s. Michigan State leads the all-time series 41-9 and the Spartans are 24-2 in home games against the Nittany Lions.

The last two matchups at the Breslin Center have been nail biters, though. Penn State got a 75-70 win in February of 2020 before dropping a two-point decision this past February, 60-58.  

scouting report

Michigan State came into this season with significantly less hype than their rivals Michigan, but it's been the Spartans who have started 2021 the better of the two teams. 

This isn't Izzo's most-talented group ever, but the Spartans are long, athletic and go about nine-deep into their bench. The makeup of this Spartans team is similar to a side Penn State has seen earlier this season in LSU.

Senior forward Gabe Brown leads a balanced green and white offense, averaging 13.1 points per game. Senior forward Marcus Bingham Jr. is second on the team in scoring (10.1 ppg) and first in rebounding (7.1 rpg). Another seven players average at least five points per game. 

Michigan State has owned the glass this season, winning the rebounding battle in all but two games, and owning a plus-8.2 rebounding margin over opponents. 

keys to the game

  • Compete in the rebounding battle. While I don't expect Penn State to win the rebounding battle, it can't afford for Michigan State to completely dominate either. The Spartans' rotation features six players at 6'6" or taller, with five of those players 6'8" or taller. The Nittany Lions have to crash the glass hard and prevent second-chance points for Michigan State. 
  • Don't turn the ball over at a high rate. At some point the turnover woes have to slow down right? We've highlighted Penn State's troubles with turnovers a lot, and it's going to be a key to this game as well. If you want to win on the road at the Breslin Center, you have to take care of the basketball. Cheap giveaways aren't going to cut it against the No. 13 team in America. 
  • Win with defense. Penn State played LSU closer than anyone else has this season and that was mostly because of the stifling defense that it played. A similar formula is going to be put into use here. Make the game ugly as much as you can. Penn State's defense has held five of its last six opponents at least 10 points under their season scoring averages. Over those last six games, Penn State has limited its opponents to just a 39.9 percent (141-353) clip from the field and 28.8 percent (40-139) mark from 3-point range. Continue those types of numbers against the Spartans, and you've got a chance. 


I was way off the pace predicting Wednesday's game against Wagner and dropped to 3-4 in my outright picks for hoops this season. We can't all be perfect I guess! Credit to Shrewsberry and the Nittany Lions for proving me wrong in a dominant effort against the Seahawks. Looking ahead to Saturday, this is going to be a really big challenge for Penn State. The Breslin Center has been a house of horrors for the Nittany Lions over the years. The last two games there have been played really evenly, though. The players that have experienced those games (Lundy, Harrar, Dread, Sessoms) will need to step up and lead the way for their teammates. Penn State is going to have to play its best game of the season to pull off the upset. Happy to be proven wrong, but I see this one going the way of Sparty. 

Prediction: Michigan State 76, Penn State 60