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Basketball Preview: Penn State vs. Michigan State

It’s about that time in State College where we can expect frigid temperatures and some type of wintry mix every week. Much like the weather, the Penn State men’s basketball team has gone cold after a hot start and coach Patrick Chambers is trying to keep things from snowballing out of control.

The Nittany Lions (12-6, 0-5 Big Ten) are the only team without a win in the Big Ten and the past five games have been a disaster. It started with a blowout to conference powerhouse Wisconsin, but Penn State followed that up with close loses that typically involved a late game collapse. The last four losses came against Rutgers, Michigan, Indiana and Purdue.

The worst came Saturday against the Boilermakers, when the Lions failed to secure a long rebound and allowed a game-tying 3-pointer with just over five seconds left on the clock. The team was deflated by overtime and let the game get out of reach early in the extra period.

“Jay Wright used to say it all the time when we were at Villanova, you can’t let one turn to two you can’t let two turn to three,” Chambers said on Monday. “Obviously we’ve done that and now we got to get ourselves off the mat and we got to start punching away and competing again.”

The Lions will try to right the ship today as they take on Michigan State in East Lansing (not at the BJC) at 7 p.m. The Spartans (12-6, 3-2 Big Ten) are off to a slow start themselves one season removed from an Elite 8 appearance.

The Enemy (Is Everywhere)

The Spartans aren’t cracking the Top 25 where they were ranked as high as No. 18 early in the season. They dropped four games in non-conference play, including a huge upset to Texas Southern in overtime. However, Sparty is ninth in strength of schedule and three of its losses came against ranked teams.

This season the Spartans are led by guards Denzel Valentine (13.9 ppg) and Travis Trice (13.8 ppg) and forward Brandon Dawson (11.5 ppg) a trio of veterans that have hurt Penn State in the past. Dawson led all scorers with 20 points in last seasons matchup.

Coach Tom Izzo once again leads a physical defensive team, Michigan State leads the Big Ten in rebounding, an area where the Lions have struggled. The Spartans are also deadly from behind the arc leading the conference at a 40.1% clip.

Michigan State holds a 33-7 career record against Penn State and has lost only once at home in 21 matchups. The Lions beat Izzo in East Lansing in 2009 and Sparty has dominated ever since.

How to Make Them Disappear Completely

Penn State couldn’t defend the perimeter against Purdue, as the Boilermaker’s Kris Stephens went 6-for-12 from deep for 22 points and hit the game-tying three ball.

Chambers was pretty blunt on the issue during Tuesday’s media availability.

“Our defense is not good,” Chambers said. “Not to where my standards are for a defensive team and rebounding team. So we’re working on defense and rebounding and we’ll get there.”

KenPom Game Prep

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Prediction

The Lions are desperately looking to get off the schneid but will likely open the Big Ten 0-6 for the third straight season. It will be difficult for Penn State to knock off an Izzo-coached team at home especially if it struggles to match up on the boards. The Lions will need big contributions from the likes of Brandon Taylor and either Donovon Jack or Jordan Dickerson at the five-spot.

Photo: Bobby Chen

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