Fresh off a suprisingly tough win against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Michigan State Spartans hit the road again, traveling this time to State College, Pennsylvania. There, they will find another below average team waiting to test their focus. Penn State occupies the bottom of the Big Ten standings and isn’t looking like they’ll move up any time soon. Thus, Michigan State should have a great chance to post a respectable 4-1 league record before their schedule takes a turn.
Yet, this is still a contest on the rough and tumble road in the Big Ten. The Spartans lost in their last trip to the Bryce Jordan Center, and simply must be able to survive another contest and move on. How does either team get the job done during a midweek tussle? Spartan Jump Shots sets the table once more.
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Find multiple double-digit scorers.
On Sunday, Michigan State was a one trick pony, relying almost exclusively on Derrick Nix to get the job done and will his team to a victory. Other than Nix’s 17 points, Adreian Payne’s 14 and Branden Dawson’s 12, the Spartans didn’t have another player in double figures. Had they, the game wouldn’t have been as close, nor would it have been such an ugly fight to the finish. Early on, the Spartans must get a better effort from all of their guards and perhaps a surprise performance from a bench player. Without that, they’ll probably be in for another struggle. Last time they lost to Penn State on the road, Michigan State only had two double figure scorers, placing a huge point of emphasis on finding several contributors across the board.
Penn State’s Key To Victory: Win the battles on the boards.
For a team to pull an upset, a number of things have to go their way. One of the most important variables is winning hustle plays, especially as it relates to rebounding. During their 2011 victory in State College, Penn State out rebounded Michigan State 35-31. They also pulled down 14 offensive boards to the Spartans’ 10. Wednesday, it will be top rebounder Ross Travis’s job to out duel Nix and Payne on the glass. If Penn State can win some one on one battles for loose balls, they’ll be able to keep this game closer than many expect. Michigan State only won the board battle by four over Nebraska (33-29) so it looks like they’re certainly susceptible in this department. Michigan State must improve on the glass and prove that notion wrong.
The X-Factors: Travis Trice and D.J. Newbill
Trice is Michigan State’s biggest x-factor lately, given his erratic performances. Once in a while, his hot shooting can help spark a victory. Other times, he can’t hit the broad side of a barn, making his minutes feel like a waste. This is the final game before a rougher Big Ten stretch, and Trice has to round into form soon so he can be depended on in bigger games. He must earn his minutes starting tonight.
Newbill, a 6-4 sophomore guard, is a triple threat for the Nittany Lions. Not only does he average nearly 15 points a game, he pulls down six rebounds and contributes nearly four assists. Those are big numbers for a young player. If Newbill goes off against Michigan State, other Spartans will have to elevate their scoring games across the board to win.
Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 1-6 and 0-3, Keith Appling’s horrid shooting numbers Sunday, both from the floor and from three point land. As discussed in the Local Big Ten Review this week, Appling must play better for Michigan State to go anywhere in the Big Ten. That means he must take more shots as well as make more shots. With a similar line like this on the road, the Spartans could get into some big trouble, even against lowly Penn State.
There won’t be much excitement going on at the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday night, or at least that’s how it might appear in the stands during the game. Typically one of the quietest environments in the Big Ten, Penn State often thrives on their opponents being lulled to sleep or having a false sense of basketball security based on the environment. They often use that to surprise teams at home. Michigan State must avoid that pitfall this time around, as they’ve certainly fallen victim in the past.
Prediction: We’re not in 2011 anymore. Penn State doesn’t have the star power (Talor Battle) or the balance in talent to pull off a victory against Michigan State this time, even at home. They’ve got decent pieces, but the Spartans have too much talent. The only way the Nittany Lions hang close is if the Spartans have a horrid shooting and rebounding night, which could happen. There’s no upset this time around, though, as Michigan State gets a better balance in scoring and averts another upset. Sorry, honey.
Michigan State 68, Penn State 54
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax