Where: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, PA
When: 7:00 pm, March 3, 2020
TV/Radio: ESPN/Spartan Sports Radio
Penn State 21-8 (11-7): #20 (Kenpom)
1 - Jamari Wheeler (6’1” jr), Myreon Jones (6’3” so)
2 - Myles Dread (6’5” so), Curtis Jones (6’4” sr)
3 - Seth Lundy (6’6” fr), Izaiah Brockington (6’4” jr)
4 - Lamar Stevens (6’8” sr)
5 - John Harrar (6’9” jr), Mike Watkins (6’9” sr)
Penn State is still playing FAST, defending solidly (although they allow a lot of three-point shots), and getting a balanced scoring effort behind Stevens, their star. This team is athletic, aggressive, and playing with a veteran swagger. But they have lost three of their last four; with the lone win a one-point nail-biter against Rutgers. In those losses, Myreon Jones was injured (except for their most-recent Iowa loss, his first game back), they went pretty cold from beyond the arc, and their defense just wasn’t good enough.
The guard and wing-play from PSU should remain a real strength: Myreon Jones, Curtis Jones, Seth Lundy, and Jamari Wheeler can all shoot it from three. They are fast (especially Wheeler), athletic (especially Myreon Jones, Wheeler, and Dread), and they are tough.
Penn State has had a great season, but their half-court offense relies on teams not covering their three-point shooters and Lamar Stevens hitting a ton of tightly contested mid-range shots. They did all of the above in the first match-up: Myreon Jones hit six of eight shots from three-point range, including a couple of absolute prayers, Lamar Stevens hit about seven tightly contested shots (he finished 9-20 from the floor), and they still had to rely on Cassius Winston missing a crunch-time free-throw to avoid overtime.
MSU was a very different team the last time these teams faced each other. And Penn State may be in for a wake-up call against the renewed and gritty Spartans. The rotation has been trimmed, confidence gained, and role-players have started hitting shots. Penn State’s wings will have to hope and pray that Henry, Watts, Ahrens, and Hall all have bad games because they could not touch Cassius Winston, and will struggle with Cash again.
Last time, I didn’t like the match-up on paper because PSU was playing exactly like they needed to, and they were on a major hot-streak. But as PSU has come back to earth a bit (Stevens hasn’t been hitting those tough shots of late, finishing with offensive ratings of 92, 101, 48, and 95 in their last four games), and MSU has found their guts. The paper suddenly has a different tinge than it did before the first match-up.
“Well the kids are all hopped up and ready to go.... They’re ready to go now.” - Ramones
- 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, Watts, Hall, Ahrens, and Brown 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. Tillman should be able to stay on Watkins more this game because Hall is playing great defense these days, which should allow him to guard Stevens for more of the game.
- Winston, Watts, and Henry vs. the PSU back-court. All three of MSU’s starters have really found a rhythm of late, and both Watts and Henry will have had this game marked on their calendars. Neither guy played well, and they let Myreon Jones go off. I expect some lock-down defense and solid scoring games from both guys.
Yes, Penn State is favored. Yes, Penn State is still a very good team. Yes, they will not be afraid of MSU to start the game. But MSU will instill that fear, impose their will, and send yet another signal to the B1G conference and to the college basketball world. Place your NCAA tournament bets in Vegas NOW folks.
Players play, tough players win.
MSU 77 PSU 70