Say what? An actual game preview? The FIRST of the new decade? Yeah, that’s right, I do what I want.
Actually, this isn’t even a preview of any kind. This is more of my general thoughts on tonight’s game. Check out KJ’s preview if you’re looking for numbers and matchups.
Penn State is playing against two top 15 teams this week. They would have had the chance to have a huge impact on how the Big Ten regular season title shook out, but Ohio State has already finished 14-4 with the 1-seed for the BTT. It starts tonight (on ESPN2), with the last road game of the year at the Breslin Center.
Penn State can win this game. Getting over the winless hump has obviously lifted a huge boulder off their shoulders, and they’ve been playing like it (albeit against Northwestern). However, PSU is not going to win if Talor Battle scores 30 points from jacking up 25 footers. I’m sure if you’re reading this that you remember I broke down the game tape from the first meeting. The flat out refusal by Penn State to even pass the ball to the low block was appalling. It cannot happen again tonight. There needs to be movement by both the players and the ball throughout the entire court, not around the perimeter.
After the first MSU game, the coaches stressed to the media how they’ve been trying to make a more concerted effort to get the ball inside. It has paid off as the Lions have won 3 of their last 4. They’ve only averaged 15 3PA those 4 games, instead of the 50 total they threw up in 2 games against Minnesota and Michigan State. Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones have averaged 10 and 9 points respectively over that stretch, well above their 6 and 5 averages in conference play this season. These averages CAN continue tonight. MSU doesn’t have the shotblocker down low to intimidate the Lions. Why PSU was so timid the first game will always remain a mystery to me (and even then, PSU had the lead in the 2nd half playing that atrocious style of basketball). But the biggest factor for PSU is the Talor Battle effect. It is no secret Battle has haunted the Spartans, as he has scored 20, 29, 31 in his last 3 games while making 16-31 threes, many well behind the 3 point line. Izzo has his team preparing for him.
Talk about opening up the floor. Izzo practiced his team to close out on shooters 25 feet away from the hoop. Considering Travis Walton is no longer on the team, the Spartans have nobody who can stop Battle (or Tim Frazier) from penetrating. The Lions need to attack and play aggressive tonight on offense. Do not settle for 3’s. Make the extra effort to attack the rim. Tim Frazier needs to be on the floor, too. I wouldn’t mind seeing him start. He needs to get 20 minutes tonight, minimum. He is also a better defender against Lucas than Battle is, so hopefully Tim can at least keep Lucas from getting whatever the hell he wants like he did in the BJC. Lucas scored an easy 24 points on 10-15 shooting. I don’t care if Lucas gets his points, considering how inconsistent the rest of the Spartans are. Just please make him work for it.
But if the PSU’s guards are able to penetrate and force the defense’s hand, this PSU team can give MSU fits. Babb and Jackson can hit the open jumpers. Jones, who has done a much better job catching passes and finishing with authority, will be able to get buckets around the tin. The x-factor, as always, is Jeff Brooks. We all know he can score on anybody if his fragile psyche stays in the game and he plays down low. If he wanders around the perimeter and gets down on himself after a few bad plays, it’ll be yet another disappointing step back for Jeff. I wish someone will compile a 5 minute highlight tape of Jeff’s career just for Brooks to see for himself what he can do when he plays like a man in the paint. His size and quickness is nearly impossible to guard, and he’s so much more effective mixing things up.
We’ll see. I expect a very entertaining and close contest. I believe picking PSU to cover is an easy bet. However, I waited forever to come out and publicly slam DeChellis, then he went on to coach the team to 3 out of 4 wins. This optimistic post could totally backfire and PSU could get run out of town. MSU is playing at home with much more to play for. Izzo has got to be thrilled to have such a great opportunity to cure his team’s turnover bug with PSU, who still never forces any turnovers. Also, MSU’s domination on the offensive glass certainly is disturbing for DeChellis as well. That’ll need to be contained.
I got to admit, though, this is one of the first games I’ve been looking forward (and had the motivation to blog about!) in a long time. It’s a little refreshing after such a sad season.