On Wednesday night the 18th ranked Michigan State basketball team (14-3, 3-1) will make their way to Happy Valley to take on the lowly Penn State Nittany Lions (8-8, 0-4).
The meeting will mark the 38th meeting all time between the two, with Michigan State dominating the series 30-7.
Tip off will be at 7:00 PM as the Spartans will be hoping to come away with their second straight road win in Big Ten play and their fourth straight win overall while the Nittany Lions will be fighting just to stay above .500.
For Penn State, much of their season has become a lost cause. This due in large part to the fact that their leading scorer Tim Frazier went out with a ruptured achillies tendon in the fourth game of the season.
Frazier, a 6’1″ senior guard from Houston Texas, was by far the best player on this Nittany Lions team. Last year he did everything he could to put the team on his back playing in over 37 minutes a game, leading the team in points (18.8), assists (6.2), rebounds (4.7) and steals (2.4). So when Frazier went down 6 minutes into a game against Akron, the hearts of Penn State fans everywhere sunk.
Ever since that moment, Penn State has done all they could to find players who could fill the gaping hole that Frazier leaves. Attempting to fill that void though is a pair dynamic scorers who both rank in the top ten in the conference in scoring. These being D.J. Newbill (14.9 ppg) and Jermaine Marshall (14.1), who together form quite an elusive backcourt for the Nittany Lions.
“I look at them a lot like I look at Minnesota,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “They have very good strong guards and they are very well coached and play very well defensively.”
For the Spartans, it’s been an up and down season thus far. For the most part, Michigan State has been able to mask a lot of their struggles with a good defense that gives up just 57 ppg and holds their opponents to just 37% shooting from the field.
“We’re a grind it out team right now,” was the way how Izzo put it.
And while this defensive-minded grind-it-out style of play has allowed Michigan State to get out to a 14-3 record, it doesn’t hide the fact they have struggled in some key areas all season long.
For starters, Michigan State has been turning the ball over nearly 15 times a game and at times, they have struggled mightily on the offensive side of the ball, sometimes not being able to get a shot to fall at all. At Minnesota, they shot just 3-10 from the free throw line and only scored 4 points in the last 9:30 of the game, letting a game that they very well could have won, slip out of their grasp.
And most recently against Nebraska, the guards shot terribly. Highlighted by Gary Harris’ 1-11 night, he, along with guards Keith Appling, Denzel Valentine, and Travis Trice combined to go just 4-26 (15.4%) from the field.
And because of these struggles, Michigan State has had a hard time putting away teams that they are clearly better than, which could be seen in each of their last two games against both Iowa and Nebraska.
Nevertheless though, in stretches of some of these games, we have seen just how good this Michigan State team can be. And while Izzo believes we have yet to see his Spartans play at their best, it has left some to wonder if they could play like that all the time, who know’s what could happen?
But in a game against a sub-par Penn State team, Michigan State will need to tune up on a few things and get a win because it doesn’t get any easier from here. After taking on the Nittany Lions, the Spartans will return home to take on Ohio State, followed by games against Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota.
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