Your MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs. the PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
THE BRESLIN CENTER, EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN
THURSDAY, 7:00 (ET)
TV: ESPN2 (O'Brien/Lavin)
ONLINE RADIO FEED: WJR
ENEMY BLOGS: Black Shoe Diaries, The 22,000+, Linebacker-U
Since we last saw the Nittany Lions, handing them their 12th consecutive conference loss two and a half weeks ago, they've gone on a regular tear, winning 3 of their last 4 games. They've beaten Northwestern home and away and knocked off Michigan in Ann Arbor, while losing to Ohio State in Happy Valley.
The sudden explosion of victories has been all the more remarkable in that Talor Battle has been distinctly human over the 4-game stretch, averaging 15.5 points/game on 7-22 three-point shooting. The key has been that a few of his teammates have stepped up. Three other players are averaging double-digit scoring over the four games: Chris Babb with 11.3 points/game on 11-21 three-point shooting, David Jackson with 11.8 points/game on 17-26 FG shooting, and Jeff Brooks with 10.0 points/game on 16-32 FG shooting.
Making shots has been the offensive key in getting into the victory column, with the Lions hitting at least the 54% eFG% mark in each of the 3 wins. They hit the 63% mark in both wins against Northwestern. Hopefully, stupendous shooting displays by the Penn State supporting cast are confined to games involving the 1-3-1 defense. Given Battle's history against MSU (21-43 from 3-point range in 5 career games), the last thing we need is the rest of the team showing up with the same shooting mojo.
For the season, Penn State's offensive strength is limiting turnovers (18.7), while they eschew going after offensive rebounds (30.6) or forcing their way to the free throw line (33.3).
Not a lot has changed on defense for the Nittany Lions of late: They don't force turnovers (16.1), they don't give up offensive rebounds (25.7), and they don't foul a lot (28.8). MSU was able to overcome their prowess on the defensive glass the last time around, though, posting one of just two offensive rebounding percentages above 35% by Penn State opponents this season.
In the first meeting, Kalin Lucas (on offense) and Mike Kebler (on defense) were the stars, while Draymond Green (0-7 from the field) and Raymar Morgan (2-8) struggled. Hopefully, Green and Morgan will follow up their strong performances in West Lafayette with better offensive showings this time around, taking advantage of the lack of any shot-blocking presence for the Nittany Lion defense.
KenPom predicts a 72-60 MSU win in 63 possessions. If the Spartans can carry over the defensive intensity from the Purdue win, a double-digit win should be in the cards. But you certainly can't take anything for granted when Talor Battle appears at the Breslin Center.
P.S. With the general unimpressiveness being displayed by MSU's high-profile nonconference opponents in recent weeks, here's a fun news item: Wofford (whom MSU beat 72-60 in December) has posted the best regular season record in the Southern Conference at 15-3, and Noah Dahlman (Isaiah's brother) has been named the conference player of the year. By my count, that makes MSU 2-2 against nonconference opponents likely to make the NCAA Tournament. (Sounds a lot better than 0-3 against nonconference opponents from BCS leagues, eh?)