The final day of January means that teams have found their footing and are looking to improve their resume for the NCAA Tournament. That is the case with Penn State as the Nittany Lions have a 108 RPI, but are looked more favorably in the BPI and KenPom at 46 and 56, respectively.
The talent on Pat Chambers’ team is evident as Tony Carr is second in the conference in scoring at 19.2 points per game. His ability to get in the lane and make plays has caused problems for conference opponents as he scored 28 points at Ohio State, including the game-winning buzzer beater.
The Nittany Lions need Carr to be on his game as they travel to East Lansing to take on fifth ranked Michigan State. The Spartans are 20-3 on the season and are third in the Big Ten with a record of 8-2. Penn State is sixth at 5-5, but a win against a top five team would boost its tournament resume immensely.
David vs. Goliath?
Winning at Michigan State is no easy task as sophomore Miles Bridges is one of the conference’s best players. His elite athleticism allows him to get to the basket, but he can shoot the three as well, shooting 36.2 from behind the arc. His 17.6 points per game are good for fourth in the conference and Chambers will need to slow him down if Penn State is going to win on the road.
Defending Miles Bridges
Josh Reaves might be the Nittany Lions’ best defensive option on Bridges as he leads the conference in steals and has the type of athleticism that can contend with the Spartans’ star. His four game absence in January left Penn State vulnerable on the defensive end and his presence should be a big lift for the team.
The one problem with Reaves defending Bridges is the size, as he is giving up three inches and 15 pounds. Lamar Stevens is not as good of a defender as Reaves, but has the size to contend with Bridges. Penn State’s sophomore forward is second on the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game, but struggled his last time out against Rutgers.
His ability to face-up from the perimeter will put pressure on the Michigan State defense, but Jaren Jackson’s quick feet allows him to defend on the outside. His 79 blocks lead the Big Ten and shoots 44.4 percent from behind the arc. His versatility will cause Penn State problems as either Stevens or Mike Watkins will be marking him.
Both players are giving up size to the Michigan State forward, but Watkins’ presence at the rim is imperative as he is second in the conference in blocks. Penn State need him around the basket to stop Nick Ward’s post game as he is leads the conference in field goal percentage at 69 percent.
If the Nittany Lions are going to pull off the upset, they shoot like they did against Ohio State as they went 11-14 from behind the arc. Penn State has the ability to go on the road and pull the upset, but Michigan State have too much talent and win in a close game.