Curtain call: home schedule nears end as Penn State comes to town Wednesday

Joe Dandron, Assistant Sports Director

As the Michigan State Spartans’ (18-9, 8-8 Big Ten) rollercoaster of a regular season comes to a close,  the team looks towards the NCAA Tournament and the Big Ten Tournament. MSU hopes to build off an impressive win over a strong Michigan team at home and regain its balance as a team.

But first, MSU faces Penn State (13-15, 5-12 Big Ten) at home this Wednesday. The Nittany Lions are coming off a 76-65 loss to Illinois on Sunday, one that has pushed them even lower in the conference standings as the league tournament approaches.

Penn State versus MSU: the matchup

The Spartans and Nittany Lions have very different plans for the postseason. The clash this Wednesday between the two squads will show a lot about Michigan State and whether or not its mentally ready to take a big step towards making a run in the postseason. I have constantly talked about its big wins against ranked opponents at home, but these have been nearly washed away by the losses to Northwestern, Ohio State, Indiana and Iowa.

This compounded with Ohio State sweeping MSU, taking the game last week at the Breslin Center, has pushed MSU into a near death trap in the latest ESPN Bracketology projections for the NCAA Tournament: drawing Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

But first MSU has to finish up its regular season home schedule with Penn State, which with 13 wins this year, has shown the ability to be pesky at times. The Nittany Lions have lost to Michigan and Ohio State by single digits while beating Purdue in a close game.

This shows that Penn State is no team to just step on. The Nittany Lions will not go down easily, led by Teniya Page at 19.3 points a game, but she has been sidelined the past two games with an ankle injury, one that may have stemmed from a fracture she suffered at a Team USA camp in the offseason.

But PSU did a good job replacing her production against Illinois, as Jaida Travascio-Green had 19 points in 39 minutes of action. It will be interesting to see how the Spartans handle Travascio-Green and her increased role.

The Nittany Lions are also allowing teams to shoot better than 34 percent from 3-point land, and as MSU is an offensively dominant team, this plays into its favor. The team is shooting 37 percent from deep this season and will use that to its advantage as Taryn McCutcheon, Shay Colley and Jenna Allen all have developed into very competent 3-point shooters this year.

Allen’s name brings up another very important point. Allen, who was averaging five points per contest in her previous four games prior to the matchup with Michigan, scored 18 points in her last outing and started to look like the same player that dropped a 20-point, 17-rebound stat line on the frontcourt of Iowa.

This is good for MSU as it looks to dominate a weak rebounding team in Penn State. If Allen and Cooks can get going on the blocks, it will spell trouble for the forwards of their opponents on Wednesday.

The Spartans and Nittany Lions will tip off at 7 p.m. at the Breslin Center on BTN+.


As I said, the two teams have very different plans for this postseason.

The Spartans are currently projected as an eight seed in the Portland region of the NCAA Tournament. The team, if they win in the first round, would faceoff with a No. 2 ranked Notre Dame team at its place. The other end of the projected region has a two seed in Oregon, a familiar foe to the Spartans.

MSU is the only team other than Oregon State to hand the Ducks a loss this year. Oregon has seemingly steamrolled the Pac-12 for much of this year and kept its eye on UConn, Baylor and Notre Dame.

The Spartans are hoping to do what they can to improve their tournament resume, with a big win over Penn State and another win in the last game of the year at Minnesota, the Spartans may be able to get up to a six or seven seed instead of an eight or nine seed.

This would better their chances to get some wins in the early stages and face either Iowa, who is currently projected on ESPN’s site to be the three seed in its bracket, or with Oregon. Those are both teams that the Spartans have defeated handily, giving them a much better chance to win than taking on the Irish in a hostile environment.

Nevertheless, MSU must also look at how to improve its stock in the Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans will have a tough draw after faltering late in the year, pushing them out of the possibility of getting a top-four seed and a bye. This would have been the best option for a team that has struggled on quick turnarounds when facing opponents, whether it be on the road or not.

The team is buoyed by the fact that it has such good non-conference wins, and a great non-conference loss against N.C. State. MSU probably could be a top-five seed in its bracket had it taken care of teams like Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State like they did with Oregon and Maryland.