The Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team heads to University Park, Pennsylvania to take on the the Penn State Nittany Lions on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network). Let’s preview the matchup.
Michigan State (18-6, 9-4): No. 23 (Kenpom)
1 - A.J. Hoggard (6’4” So.), Tyson Walker (6’0” Jr.)
2 - Max Christie (6’6” Fr.), Jaden Akins (6’4” Fr.)
3 - Gabe Brown (6’8” Sr.), Pierre Brooks II (6’6” Fr.)
4 - Joey Hauser (6’9” Sr.), Malik Hall (6’7” Jr.)
5 - Marcus Bingham Jr. (7’0” Sr.), Julius Marble (6’9” Jr.)
Things needed to change, and to continue to change. A.J. Hoggard took over the starting role at point guard against Indiana, and the Spartans’ rotation as a whole benefited with a 76-61 win. Tyson Walker thrived off the bench in a more scoring-focused and free-playing role, and Hoggard ranged from solid-to-dominant at times with his paint-breaking creation and opportunistic scoring game. Julius Marble’s defensive struggles in the pick-and-roll were not an issue against the Hoosiers, who insisted on 1990s-style post-ups for Trayce Jackson-Davis, which allowed Marble to step in for Marcus Bingham Jr. (who was in foul trouble for much of the game) and play solid, stone-walling, statuesque defense. Even with Max Christie and Gabe Brown continuing to scuffle on the wings, Pierre Brooks II and Jaden Akins, particularly, demonstrated their abilities with poise and concerted effort.
The remaining possible tweak would be to replace Joey Hauser with Malik Hall in the starting lineup. Hauser, despite his considerably improved play, still contributes less than Hall does, and starting Hall might induce the coaching staff to play him closer to 30 minutes per game, which is where he should be, frankly. But this change appears far less pressing than the needed shift at point guard, which may well have unlocked both Hoggard and Walker’s full potential.
Penn State (9-12, 4-9): No. 88 (Kenpom)
1 - Sam Sessoms (6’0” Sr.), Jaheem Cornwall (6’0” Sr.)
2 - Jalen Pickett (6’4” Sr.), Dallion Johnson (6’3” So.)
3 - Myles Dread (6’4” Sr.)
4 - Seth Lundy (6’6” Jr.), Jalanni White (6’8” Sr.)
5 - John Harrar (6’9” Sr.), Greg Lee (6’9” Sr.),
Penn State remains a deeply flawed team, but the Nittany Lions also remain dangerous. Since getting handled by the Spartans in East Lansing back in early December, Penn State has beaten Indiana, Northwestern, Rutgers and Iowa (all teams that have either beaten the Spartans, given them a heck of a game or will give them a heck of a game), and narrowly lost to Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota (among other losses). In fact, those four losses came by a combined 14 points — i.e. a smaller margin of defeat than four points per game on average.
John Harrar remains a load, albeit a limited player in terms of skill, and Myles Dread and Seth Lundy remain dangerous scoring, undersized and beefy wing-forwards. Jalen Pickett and Dallion Johnson are a solid duo on the wing, and Sam Sessoms has real scoring ability from all three levels. Get into their bodies on offense (this team shoots jumpers and does not get to the line other than Harrar), run them hard, and leverage your size against them on the offensive glass.
Brown, Bingham and Walker led a balanced effort from the Spartans in the home win early in conference play, and this game should present yet another opportunity for Michigan State’s wings to really produce solid scoring games. Christie and Brown remain due for a bounce-back effort after playing inconsistent basketball over the last two weeks, and Bingham and Marble should feel comfortable against Harrar’s direct and head-strong style by now.
Hoggard and Walker need to push the pace, and look for Michigan State’s three-point shooters to really get on track in this one. The Nittany Lions leave the three-point arc open too often for Spartan shooters to not get a large number of lightly contested three-point attempts.
Players play. Tough players win. Defend, rebound and run. I would not be surprised to see Pierre Brooks II have a big game in this one: he has been playing excellent albeit subdued basketball and I expect Tom Izzo to reward him with continued opportunities. Look for five double-digit scorers and a confident display.
With a victory on Tuesday night, Tom Izzo will tie former Indiana head coach Bob Knight for most total wins at a single Big Ten school with 662.