University Park, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Big Ten Conference slate gets underway on New Year's Eve, as the fifth-ranked Michigan State Spartans pay a visit to the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Michigan State was at one point earlier this season ranked No. 1 in the country, but a double-digit home loss to North Carolina on Dec. 4 dropped the team from that lofty position. That is still the only setback the Spartans have suffered, as they bring an 11-1 record into this contest, hoping to run their current win streak to five in a row. MSU's most recent outing took place against visiting New Orleans on Saturday, and the home team easily prevailed in a 101-48 final.
Penn State hasn't had quite the start that Michigan State has, but it has still enjoyed a successful first couple of months, winning nine of its initial 13 games, including three of the last four. The Nittany Lions have been idle since posting a 92-82 triumph over visiting Mount St. Mary's three days before Christmas, and they are 6-2 at home this season.
Michigan State owns a commanding 31-7 lead in the all-time series with Penn State, but the Lions have won two of the last five meetings, including a 66-62 decision in the Bryce Jordan Center in 2011.
With signature wins over Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas on their resume', it's not surprising to see the Spartans excelling at both ends of the floor. The team boasts four double-digit scorers, led by Adreian Payne and Gary Harris with 18.0 and 17.9 ppg, respectively, and it is averaging 83.7 ppg while permitting only 65.3 ppg. Michigan State is shooting 49.1 percent from the field, knocking down 38.2 percent of its 3-point attempts along the way, while yielding just 37.6 percent success to its opponents, who make good on only 30.1 percent of their long-range launches while also falling behind in both rebounds (-6.3) and turnovers (-2.5). In addition to the team's top two scorers, Keith Appling (15.9 ppg, 5.0 apg) and Branden Dawson (10.3 ppg, team- high 9.3 rpg) have both performed exceptionally well for coach Tom Izzo's club, which routed New Orleans on Saturday by shooting 54.5 percent from the floor, draining 13-of-25 3-point tries, and logging a 54-31 rebounding advantage. Appling led four double-digit scorers with 27 points and eight assists, while Denzel Valentine notched a double-double consisting of 10 points and 13 boards.
Penn State plans to counter Michigan State's potent offense with a formidable attack of its own, as the team puts up 81.2 ppg thanks in large part to the efforts of two of the Big Ten's best guards in D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier. Both players produce in a variety of ways, with Newbill posting averages of 18.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, while Frazier generates 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game. Other notables include Ross Travis (11.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Brandon Taylor (10.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg), and Pittsburgh transfer John Johnson made his first appearance in a Penn State uniform in the recent win over Mount St. Mary's, netting a team-high 20 points in only 22 minutes of action off the bench. Newbill added 18, Frazier 15, Travis 14 and Taylor 10 for the Lions, who connected on 52.3 percent of their field goal attempts, despite going a dismal 2-of-11 from beyond the arc. A 24-14 edge in points from the foul line, coupled with a 62-26 differential in points in the paint helped PSU overcome a nine-point halftime deficit.