As the No. 18 MSU men’s basketball team prepares for a road game with Penn State on Wednesday, it’s a tale of teams headed in two separate directions.
The Spartans (14-3 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) remain one of the top programs in the conference, while the Nittany Lions (8-8, 0-4) are primed to finish in the cellar in a very strong Big Ten season.
Still, both teams have a tough schedule down the stretch, and each will be looking for a much needed victory at Bryce Jordan Center, in Pennsylvania.
We sat down with one of The Daily Collegian’s men’s basketball reporters, John McGonigal, to discuss the three keys for Penn State to pull off an upset.
1. Offensive rebounds and getting second-chance opportunities
Aside from freshman forward Brandon Taylor, the Nittany Lions feature few impact players in the post, making it hard to compete with other teams in rebounding.
Coming into the game, Penn State is ranked ninth in the Big Ten in rebounding offense, as well as rebounding margin and seventh in rebounding defense. As a result, the team has struggled to pick up scoring opportunities in the post, and the bulk of the scoring weight has fallen on the team’s guards.
McGonigal said this will be a point of focus against the Spartans on Wednesday.
“Penn State got 11 offensive rebounds against (Purdue) but wasn’t able to get their shots to fall,” McGonigal said. “They’re going to need to get more offensive rebounds and really put in the work on the glass against Michigan State.”
2. Make open shots
With much of the offensive weight falling on the guards, McGonigal said it’s critical for Penn State to knock down its open looks on the floor.
The Nittany Lions are 11th in the conference in scoring offense, in addition to compiling the lowest field goal percentage of any team in the Big Ten. If they hope to defeat the Spartans, it starts on the offensive end of the floor.
“That’s one thing (Penn State) hasn’t done,” McGonigal said. “If you’re going to pull off an upset or two this year in conference play, you’re going to need to make the baskets that generally should be made.”
3. Getting to the free-throw line
Many coaches often talk about the importance of getting to the free-throw line and converting on as many chances as possible. This is no different for Penn State.
Sitting right behind MSU’s 70.3 percent at the line, the Nittany Lions have been able to record a respectable 69.8 percent this season in 16 games — which is good for seventh in the conference.
However, McGonigal said it’s essential for slashing guard D.J. Newbill to get to the line and set the pace against the Spartans.
“He’s a guy that, when he’s not sticking to the point, he’s a true slashing guard, and he does really well when he gets around the basket and drives the ball,” McGonigal said. “For him to get to the rim and the foul line tomorrow, that’ll be key for them to get the upset against Michigan State.”