Game: 5 Michigan State (11-1) at Penn State (9-4)
Time: 5:00 p.m. EST
TV: Big Ten Network
Line: Michigan State, -5.5
The Penn State Nittany Lions men’s basketball team gets to end 2013 with its toughest matchup to date. The Nittany Lions open Big Ten play with a visit from the fifth-ranked Michigan State Spartans. A game against a top-ranked opponent would usually draw a large crowd to the Bryce Jordan Center, but that may not be the case today, considering the game will be going on amid New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Penn State wrapped up non-conference play on December 22nd with a 92-82 victory over Mount Saint Mary’s. The Nittany Lions currently have a 9-4 record and have been anything but consistent. A loss to Bucknell and losing a 20-point second-half lead to the Princeton Tigers were two of the low points of the early season.
The Nittany Lions have gotten positive production from guards Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill, who have joined to form one of the top backcourts in the conference, with both players averaging over 18 points a game. The backcourt has suddenly gotten even better with the addition of Pitt transfer John Johnson. Johnson has played one game so far and put up 22 points.
Forwards Donovon Jack and Ross Travis have done a good job controlling things down low in the paint.
The Spartans enter the game with a record of 11-1, having lost to the North Carolina Tar Heels. Tom Izzo’s squad is one of the best in the country and has hopes of a Final Four appearance. Michigan State is led by three all-conference players. Talented forward Adreian Payne (18 PPG and 7.9 RPG), guard Keith Appling (15.9 PPG and 5 APG) and guard Gary Harris (17.9 PPG).
Michigan State will provide trouble for the Nittany Lions, especially with Payne and Appling both shooting better than 45 percent from behind the arc, something that hurt Penn State in its last outing against Mount Saint Mary’s. The Spartans shoot well from everywhere on the floor and rank 26th in the country with a field goal percentage of 49.1.
If Penn State hopes to pull of the major upset, it’s going to need a solid performance on both ends of the courts. The talented backcourt of the Nittany Lions will need to control the tempo of the game and make sure that it gets quality looks at the basket. This will be definitely be a tough game, but there’s no reason that the Nittany Lions can’t end 2013 on a winning note.
Follow VBR Lead Editor Barry Leonard Jr. on Twitter