Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI
When: 7:00pm EST, Feb. 9, 2021
TV/Radio: ESPN 2/Spartan Sports Network radio
Penn State (7-8, 4-7): No. 30 (Kenpom)
1 - Jamari Wheeler (6’1” sr), Sam Sessoms (6’0” sr)
2 - Myreon Jones (6’3” jr)
3 - Izaiah Brockington (6’4” jr)
4 - Seth Lundy (6’6” so), Myles Dread (6’4” jr)
5 - John Harrar (6’9”), Trent Buttrick (6’8” sr), Abdou Tsimbila (6’8” fr)
This season, Penn State’s team is built around the fun and compelling group of guards and wings that played a secondary role on last year’s team behind Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins. With those two imposing and talented front-court players gone, Penn State is playing fast, aggressive, and spacing-intensive basketball to solid effect. While the Nittany Lions’ record on the year is middling, they have a very strong profile in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and a closer look at their losses reveals just how close this team is to being really good: an overtime loss to Seton Hall, a two possession loss at Michigan, an overtime loss at Indiana, a three-possession loss at Purdue, and a two-possession loss at Ohio State all could have ended as wins with a few different plays or bounces of the ball.
Penn State does some things well, and some things poorly (there is not a lot of “average” to this team). They play fast on offense, and slow on defense. They consistently win the turnover battle (top-60 in offensive turnover rate, and top-100 in defensive turnover rate) helped in large part by the Lions’ aggressive and talented perimeter defenders — Wheeler (3.3 percent, No. 105 in the nation), Sessoms (3.4 percent, No. 119 in the nation), Jones (2.6 percent), and Brockington (2.1 percent) all have high steal rates. They only have two high-turnover players themselves in Wheeler and Sessoms. And Harrar crashes the offensive glass relentlessly (he has the 12th best offensive rebounding rate in the nation at 16.3 percent).
But this team is built around three-point shooting and the spacing that it creates. Every player in the rotation apart from Harrar and Tsimbila (who has not played regularly of late, but is a future conference DPOY contender in my view) can shoot the three-point ball and are not shy in the slightest. That shooting gravity means that opposing defenses get spread out, and it forces individual defenders to make plays on islands. While Penn State does not get to the line too often, the Nittany Lions hit their free throws when they get there, punishing teams that are not disciplined defensively.
Penn State got drilled by Wisconsin in the rubber-match, but clearly Penn State can beat any team in the conference.
You can see here, that this Penn State team has the kind of spacing on offense that quality and consistent three-point shooting lineups can give teams.
Myreon Jones: Jones is a confident, wiry, scorer. He has a penchant for drilling contested shots (especially against Michigan State), and will give anyone who guards him problems.
Izaiah Brockington: Brockington is a down-hill attacker, he will take three-pointers if he is open, but he wants to attack off the bounce — play him to drive and make him into a passer.
Seth Lundy: Lundy has the moxie and confidence to take and make big shots, and the body, speed, and physicality to over-power smaller or slower-footed players.
John Harrar: Harrar has made himself into a rock-solid center as a senior. He is physical, aggressive, scores it pretty well, and produces on both ends. He will take everything opponents don’t take themselves.
In yet another must-win game for the Spartans, Penn State will pose problems for the Spartans on defense with their spacing and shooting acumen, but I will be surprised if their defense succeeds vs the men in Green and White.
Harrar and Lundy have to be bullied and run at over and over again. This is a game where Michigan State should get over 30 percent of its misses, and where Penn State’s front-court should be in foul trouble by the end of the first half. Anything less will be letting PSU off-the-hook. Stick on Jones, Sessoms, Lundy, and Dread and force them inside the arc. Penn State is not a good passing team, and the Lions’ two lead-guards in Wheeler and Sessoms, in particular, can be turnover-prone. Play them solidly and funnel them to the shot-blockers.
Marcus Bingham Jr. will have to play tough and strong; Harrar is exactly the kind of big who can give Bingham problems because he is strong, thick, and relentless — Bingham must box-out, play smart, and be patient on defense. I focus on Bingham here because it is painfully obvious that he is far-and-away Michigan State’s best center, and should be playing at least 25 minutes a night. If he does tonight, then it will bode well for the Spartans; it will mean that he is defending, rebounding, and playing disciplined on offense.
The rest of the front-court remains a mystery— Joey Hauser, who appears to have forgotten how talented he is at scoring the basketball, should have a terrific game inside of the arc, and Malik Hall should have the quickness to give Lundy and Dread as many problems as they give him.
Joshua Langford and A.J. Hoggard may struggle with their covers, but Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown should dominate the game with their length. If those guys get on the glass and play with aggression and a dominating attitude on defense, then this game should verge on comfortable, spinning Spartan fans into a new cycle of hope for the season.
Here it is. The turning point of the season. Kenpom suggests that this should be a relative toss-up game, favoring PSU by a point on the road. Penn State has been a great road-team all year, so do not expect them to lay down. But I do think the Spartans take this one. Desperation will draw it out of the Spartans as long as they don’t lose their cool. Play tough, play aggressive, and dominate the paint on both ends.
Even if the Nittany Lions hits some three-pointers (and they will), if their front-court gets in dire foul-trouble, then the Spartans should be able to get back to the programs roots —defend, rebound, and run.
MSU 78 PSU 70