Penn State led No. 5 Michigan St., 47-40, at halftime of their matchup last Tuesday, prompting people at New Years Eve parties to idly say things like, "Did you see Penn State today?" But no one had. We watched Illinois, and moved on, completely missing the Spartans roll over the Nittany Lions in the second half.
In previewing the Penn State game, let's address the good and the bad, as split into Michigan State halves.
Penn State has two scorers, one being fifth-year senior Tim Frazier, who incredibly hasn't graduated yet. He was around when Ed Dechelis--who left to go to a better job at NAVY--and my favorite non-Illini Big Ten player of all-time, Talor Battle, were taking the Lions to the NCAA Tournament. Now he's got coach Pat Chambers and D.J. Newbill, their other scorer, and no one's expecting them to go dancing. Still, Frazier and Newbill, a junior, are averaging 17.4 and 18.8 ppg, respectively.
Against Michigan State, Penn State's first half lead was built by offense. The Spartans were held to roughly their half average, but the Nittany Lions were well over theirs--about eight points. Newbill scored 14 points and sophomore forward Brandon Taylor pitched in with 16 points of his own, making up for Frazier, who went 1-for-6 from the field.
Tom Izzo got a little upset at his team at halftime, the Spartans defense responded, and the Nittany Lions managed only 16 points in the second half. Newbill scored three points. Taylor had two. Frazier led the team with five, and he finished the game 3-for-12 with four turnovers. Not quite as bad, but still pretty lackluster, was the defense, which ranks 11 points worse than the Illini's. Michigan State scored just as they did in the first half, only Penn State's offense wasn't there to keep up.
Penn State has four players averaging more than 11 points per game, but if any of them have an off-night, they struggle. They're 3-5 when scoring 80 points or fewer.
Penn State needs to hit shots like the did in the first half of the Michigan State game to beat Illinois, and since this one's at the State Farm Center against a hot team and a statistically better defense, I'm convincing myself it won't happen. Black Shoe Diaries concedes the game in their predictions, and I like that style. Illinois gets the win.
It'll come down to our strength (defense) versus their strength (scoring). So, Illinois, just keep it simple. Play better.
Listen up, Brink.