THE BRESLIN CENTER, EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 7PM ET
BIG TEN NETWORK (JOHNSON, KELSER)
ONLINE RADIO FEED: WJR
[Abbreviated version. --LVS.]
In short: a win tonight is absolutely necessary if there's any chance for the season to be salvaged. The current respective positions of Penn State and Michigan State could scarcely have been predicted at the time of the teams' last meeting. Heading into that game, Penn State had lost all of their important non-conference games, and was fresh off a waxing at the hands of Purdue. MSU's two wins had been close affairs, but the team looked ready to build some momentum.
The 66-62 loss in State College was miserable and foreboded the terrible things that were to come for the Spartans:
In short, if you haven't calibrated your expectations for this MSU team, you better do so now. This loss wasn't like the fluke losses two years ago where the Spartans lost to hot-shooting Penn State and Northwestern squads, this loss can be blamed on a failure to collect rebounds and poor foul shooting.
Indeed, Penn State won the game by collecting 39.5% of their misses. While Penn State didn't set the nets on fire like other MSU opponents have this year -- only a 44.7% eFG -- they buried important shots when they needed to. And, as we all know, Talor Battle was nailing contested 25-footers against MSU way before it became in style to nail contested 25-footers against MSU.
Since that game, Penn State has beaten Illinois and Wisconsin and lost in excruciating fashion to Ohio State and Purdue. In spite of their horrific non-conference play, they're serious tournament contenders, and while taking down MSU at home ain't what it used to be, they'll surely be extremely motivated to burnish their resume.
The good news is that, according to BSD, Jeff Brooks is "questionable" for tonight's game. Brooks was massive for the Lions back in January against Your Spartans, scoring 17 points, grabbing 12 boards, and generally acting as a legitimate secondary threat so that MSU couldn't solely concentrate on stopping Battle at the end of the game. And it's wasn't a one-game fluke: Brooks is averaging 7.2 rebounds and 13.5 points per game this season -- and he's doing so with an excellent 62.0% eFG. Talor Battle remains the consummate chucker -- completely capable of things brilliant and stunningly stupid. Far too often, it's been the former against MSU, and Spartan fans know what to expect of him at this point.
Kenpom predicts a 67-63 Spartan victory, and God knows we'd all take it at this point. A win here is particularly important because the schedule gets absolutely brutal from here: at OSU, home to Illinois, at Minnesota, home to Purdue and Iowa, and at Michigan. Another loss tonight and an NIT bid isn't even a sure thing. So, yay, optimism.
See you here in the game thread at 7.