February 5, 2012; East Lansing, MI, USA; General view of Jack Breslin Students Events Center during the second half between the Michigan State Spartans and the Michigan Wolverines. MSU won 64-54. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE

Penn State Basketball versus Michigan State pre-game

Tip-off is at 6:30 PM ET

The last time the Penn State basketball team took the floor, they lost to Iowa on the road 77-64. It wasn’t even that close, though. Penn State was more horrendous than horrendous in the first half and shot 27% from the floor. For the game, the Lions attempted only 7 free throws. Such has been life on the road for Penn State in this season of hardship. While losses have not been hard to come by at home, at least most of the games in the BJC are competitive. On the road, Penn State hasn’t lost by single-digits since Duquesne beat the Lions 66-59 on December 10.

That’s why this upcoming contest versus Michigan State in East Lansing doesn’t exactly look promising. However, even in “winnable” games, Penn State fans would be better served to pay attention to the development of players instead of the performance as a whole. Here’s what to look for from Penn State tonight.

  • Any sort of post offense. After scoring 6 points against one of the Big Ten’s top defenders in Meyers Leonard, Sasa Borovjnak has scored just a single point total in his last four games. It really wouldn’t hurt to get him the ball more. Penn State is one of the worst teams in the country at effective FG%, so why not try letting the guy who sets up closest to the basket shoot some more? Jonathan Graham should be encouraged to be more aggressive as well, but please allow me to cover my eyes before he gets the ball.
  • More Ross Travis, less Cammeron Woodyard. OK, this is more me just hoping than anything, but it would behoove Pat Chambers to get Travis on the floor more. For one, he is tall and athletic and Penn State needs that to guard Draymond Green. For another, although Travis doesn’t have a real offensive identity yet, he at least has upside, which is more than Woodyard can say. Yeah, I know Woodyard is a senior and everything, but he rarely impacts the team positively on offense and Travis just needs to play more.
  • Set fire to the rain of threes. Yeah, an Adele pun. The point is that Michigan State is an elite defensive force and despite my desire for any sort of post presence, Penn State will probably have the ball in the hands of a guard 99% of the time. Scoring inside will be tough, especially if the Lions act like they are allergic to foul shots again. They will probably jack up a lot of three pointers. For any chance of success, Penn State will have to hope that Billy Oliver can shoot like he did against Purdue and not like he did in every other game. Nick Collela should also be spotting up on the perimeter, because I’d rather Jermaine Marshall and Tim Frazier drive inside and try to draw some fouls.

The two best players on Michigan State are power forward Draymond Green and point guard Keith Appling. Green is one of the best players in college basketball this season (Ken Pomroy ranks him as third-best right now). He averages 14.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in addition to providing his team with every gritty, hard-working leadership intangible you can think of. Last week versus Illinois, Green went down with a scary-looking knee injury that made everyone freak out, but he turned out to be okay. In the win over Michigan on Sunday, he grabbed 16 rebounds. Penn State will probably not have an answer for him.

At least the Lions should be able to slow down Appling. He’s a really good player and average 11.9 points, 3.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds, but Appling does not shoot the ball well from three-point range. He’s only 17 of 63 (27%) for the season, so Chambers would be wise to just give him that shot and have Frazier use his quickness to cut off any penetration. That way Green as well as other big me like Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne won’t be able to score too easily.

That’s not to say that life for Nix and Payne should be tough. Penn State does not really have anyone to guard these men with and should they get the ball in the paint, Chambers will likely have to resort to double teams. Green, as well as point guard Travis Trice and shooting guard Brandon Wood, all shoot well from long distance, so Penn State will need to rotate quickly should the ball be forced out of the post.

That’s it for now. Penn State is likely to get clobbered in this one, but you really never know. Enjoy the game, everyone!

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Tags: Adreian Payne Derrick Nix Draymond Green Jermain Marshall Keith Appling Pat Chambers Sasa Borovnjak Tim Frazier

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