Know Thy Enemy: Penn State gearing up for tough stretch
A lot of national attention has been focused on the MSU athletic department during the past several days since ESPN's "Outside The Lines" released an investigative report revealing an alleged history of sexual assault and violence against women within the university’s athletic programs.
Much of that scrutiny has recently shifted to the men’s basketball team and head coach Tom Izzo, who according to the OTL report, mishandled reported cases of sexual and physical assault against women involving a few of his former players.
Through all the criticism surrounding Izzo and despite calls for him to step down, the Hall of Fame coach has remained at the helm of the No. 5 Spartans. With another inter-conference game against Penn State approaching at the Breslin Center on Wednesday, Izzo said he hopes to coach his team to a fifth consecutive victory.
Here’s what he had to say:
Q: The Nittany Lions have a handful of double-digit scorers, but Tony Carr is a name that really stands out when you look at the stat sheet. His numbers are up across the board from last season, so how would you assess his overall play this season up to this point, and how could he frustrate the Spartans?
A: Well, I think for Tony Carr, he just uses his length really well. He’s actually shooting better from three than from two, but the key for Tony Carr is getting into the paint, and I know Michigan State has some athletic guys that can defend on the perimeter.
But for Carr it’s always about getting in the paint and getting to the free-throw line. He’s really good at seeing the mismatch and taking advantage of that, so if he gets a smaller guard on him he’s not going to hesitate to back him down, hit a turnaround jumper, or try to glide by him to get to the lane. So I’d say probably that’s the biggest thing for him, is that when he sees a mismatch or has a smaller guard on him he’s not going to hesitate to take advantage of that.
Q: Penn State has been somewhat inconsistent this season, particularly in conference play. But the team has won its last two, including an impressive road victory over No. 17 Ohio State. The back-end of the Nittany Lions' schedule is loaded with matchups against (No. 24) Michigan, No. 3 Purdue and another meeting with the Buckeyes. How do you think the team will fair during this stretch?
A: I think for them this stretch is going to make or break their NCAA Tournament hopes, obviously. Right now they’re way on the outside looking in, but they have an opportunity to collect wins. I think this team does rather well down the stretch even with this difficult schedule. I think they’re going to collect three or four wins that boost their resume a little bit, and I think the biggest thing for them right now is they’re playing so much more confident with Josh Reaves back, he came back from an academic related absence, and with him out there they’re just such a different team, they’re just so much more confident.
So, I think going into Michigan State is going to be difficult but they get Iowa at home, they get Maryland, they get Illinois the next three games after that. Those are three big opportunities to collect wins, and then you get Ohio State at home again and Michigan at home, I think easily one of those two games can be a win and that right there would give them six wins with about nine games to go. So, yeah, I think this team right now playing as confident as they are with Reaves back in the lineup can actually go 6-3 down the stretch here.
Q: The Spartans have won four straight and look to have gotten their groove back, so what do the Nittany Lions have to do in order to pull off the upset over MSU?
A: I think for Penn State to pull off the upset is they’re not going to be able to get stagnant on offense. They’re going to have to keep it a close game, they’re going to have to keep the offense flowing in rhythm, because Penn State at times this season has gone on four to five minute droughts where they don’t score a basket, and against a team like Michigan State you’re not afforded that opportunity because they’re going to take advantage of that.
(Miles) Bridges and Jaren Jackson and all those guys are going to get going, so for Penn State the key is not to get stagnant on offense. When they become over-reliant on Tony Carr to hit pull-up jumpers late in the shot clock, it makes it really easy for other teams to get out and transition and take advantage of that and pull away or come back and take the lead, so avoiding that offensive stagnation I think is a big key for Penn State in this game. If they can do that, I think they have the talent to hang around with Michigan State, and from there who knows.
Q: What's your score prediction and why?
A: I’ll go somewhere around 71-59, somewhere in there. I just think Michigan State’s athleticism, and they have the guys that can shut down a Tony Carr or a Lamar Stevens, so I’ll probably put at 71-59. If it’s going to be closer than that, I think Penn State is going to have to get a big night from someone outside of Tony Carr, because I think Tom Izzo is really going to try to limit his impact on offense, so I they’re going to have to get a Lamar Stevens going or a Mike Watkins going, guys like that to really give them a chance to win this game. But I’d go with 71-59.