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The Penultimate Battle - A Penn State Preview



TV: Big Ten Network
ONLINE RADIO STREAM: Spartan Sports Network


This probably doesn't need to be said, but it's been a rough season so far for Penn State.  They lost to all three of their major opponents (Mississippi, Maryland, Virginia Tech) in the nonconference season and, for a change of pace, Maine.  The conference season started off on a positive note for the Nittany Lions with a win at Indiana, but that was followed by a loss in the final minutes at Michigan and a decisive beating by Purdue.   Not quite the best week.

Tomorrow the Spartans face a Penn State team that only does one thing really well -- hold onto the ball.  The Nittany Lions post a TO% of 18.2% (52nd overall).  Their two biggest deficiencies play directly into Michigan State's strengths, as their opponents make 39.8% of their threes, and they have 12.1% of their shots blocked (both rank in the 300s nationally).  PSU and Northwestern have the two worst defenses in the Big Ten. MSU should find the scoring easy, especially for the corner three - just ask Ryne Smith.

Depending on the day however, Penn State is a team that can go score for score.  I don't need to remind you of Talor Battle's history against MSU, and he's more efficient than ever this year.  This is because he's shooting close to 40% from behind the arc and making more than 50% of his twos.  He had an off night (6-22, 2-9 from three) against Purdue, let's hope Keith Appling is up to the task of marking Battle.

Unlike some years, Penn State has someone who can split the scoring load. Forward Jeff Brooks has a slightly higher offensive rating than Battle (115.4 to Mr. Battle's 114.5), he is the main scoring threat inside.  Brooks is also a capable rebounder inside with a defensive rebounding percentage of just over 20%, and an offensive rebounding percentage just under 10%.  The only other Penn State player with an Offensive rating above 100 is David Jackson, a forward who rarely turns the ball over.  While Tim Frazier does a lot of things well - he has a fine assist rate, gets a good number of steals, and can get to the foul line if need be - he's simply not a threat to score.

To win this game, Michigan State needs to focus on two things. First, keep the turnovers at a reasonable level. Since Penn State isn't much for putting up resistance around the three-point line, it'd be nice if MSU skimped on the dangerous alley-oop and entry passes and kick-out if need be.  An open three early isn't necessarily the worst shot in this game.  Second, it's been said before, but like in every other Penn State game the past few years MSU needs to limit Talor Battle.  If he makes three after three from 25 feet out fine, but he can't be allowed to penetrate at will.

KenPom is calling for a 69-64 MSU victory with a 71% win probability.  Part of me feels like the point differential should be greater, but the other part's been traumatized by Talor Battle making insane shots over the past four years.  This is MSU's last game against Battle in Pennsylvania, and it can't come soon enough.