Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI
When: 8:00 pm, February 4, 2020
TV/Radio: BTN/Spartan Sports Radio
Penn State 16-5 (6-4): #16 (Kenpom)
1 - Jamari Wheeler (6’1” jr), Myreon Jones (6’3” so)
2 - Curtis Jones (6’4” sr), Izaiah Brockington (6’4” jr)
3 - Myles Dread (6’5” so)
4 - Lamar Stevens (6’8” sr), Seth Lundy (6’6” fr)
5 - John Harrar (6’9” jr), Mike Watkins (6’9” sr)
I love this PSU team. I really wasn’t sure how good they were going to be in the preseason because they lost a ton of close games last year - would they be able to solve their “clutch” offense? They played too slow for a team that struggled to score in the half-court - would they speed up enough? They also couldn’t shoot the ball at all - could they find enough 3pt shooting? And they just didn’t get consistent production from the 5 - could Watson and Harrar be good enough? Check, check, check, and check.
Penn State is playing FAST (#39 in the nation in pace), they are shooting well with a 50.7% eFG% and 32% from 3 (#114 and #292 respectively, which is totally fine for this team), Stevens is pacing them with his “Raymar Morgan + better handle” game and has been solid in the clutch (16.5 ppg, 7 rpg), they have enough 3pt shooting (more on that in a second), and they have a dynamic group of guards and wings (more on that in a second). Most of all this team is athletic, aggressive, and playing with a veteran swagger (they need to build Lamar Stevens a statue).
Watkins has been moved to the bench for Harrar, and the five spot has really coalesced for Pat Chambers (who along with Pikiell, McCaffrey, and Underwood should be on the short-list for COY in the B1G and in the nation) - over the last five games since Harrar became a starter those two are combining for ~11 ppg, 10 rpg, 2 bpg. That is all they need from that position - rebound, finish, and draw fouls. Both of these guys are considerably bigger and stronger than MSU’s bigs, which will be a challenge (Marble has to play minutes this game).
I also love the guard and wing-play from PSU: Myreon Jones, Curtis Jones, Seth Lundy, and Jamari Wheeler can all shoot it from 3 (force Myles Dread to shoot from 3 as he is their worst and highest-volume 3pt shooter - under 30% on the season on 127 3pt FGA!). They are fast (especially Wheeler), athletic (especially Myreon Jones, Wheeler, and Dread), and they are tough.
This team doesn’t run a ton of complicated offense, but they do a fair amount of Spain PnR (back-screen for the screener’s man to free up the weak-side lob), which helps mitigate the lack of 3pt threat (this is a great way to attack teams who drop the big on PnR), but their offense really relies on transition and unsettled situations.
Regardless of what happens tonight, this team is making the tourney and will win at least one game when they get there.
On paper I don’t like the match-up for MSU. PSU is everything that MSU is not right now - tough, imposing their athleticism and will on other teams, locked-in with excellent focus, defending with physicality, capable of going on defensive and offensive bursts (3 or more stops in a row, 3 or more scoring trips in a row), and they have the athletes and size they have lacked in past years. Their skill level still isn’t up to MSU’s level, but with the inconsistency MSU has shown of late, that may not matter. Given all that - what is the win condition for MSU? How is Izzo going to attack this PSU team?
- Play fast - PSU wants to play fast, but that should play into MSU’s hands. It will give Cash way more open-court than he has seen recently, it will give Henry, Brown, and Hall more space to operate, and it should open up some free shots on the wing. If PSU decides they can’t hang, or if Izzo decides that the pace is giving PSU too many good looks, then the game slows down and MSU should have an advantage in a slower game. But initially, I expect this game to be fairly fast-paced.
- Attack the glass - PSU is a solid, but not great, rebounding team. Get on the glass on both ends to unlock our transition game, and slow theirs down a bit.
- Winston vs. Stevens. If either best-player gets shut down their respective teams tend to struggle. Winston will have to deal with Wheeler’s speed, but Cash shouldn’t have major problems because neither Harrar nor Watkins are dynamo defenders on the perimeter. Stevens should still get his numbers, but if Hall, Kithier, Tillman, Ahrens, Henry, and Brown, who may all have possessions against Stevens can make him as inefficient as possible, then that is a win for MSU.
This is a game that MSU has to win. We have a 3-game gauntlet after this one - @UM, @Ill, vs. UMD - winning the conference will probably require the team going at least 3-1 in this stretch. Furthermore, this will be the second best win of the season for MSU (PSU is #16 in Kenpom!!! Let that sink in). This is a really tough match-up, and I would not imagine it will be more than a 5 point game, or so. Cash in the clutch will be too much to handle. But MSU can no longer afford Henry, Brown, or Watts to have “dud-games.” Now is the time to really start turning the corner for MSU’s wings.
MSU 75 PSU 70