Two Michigan State players benched for tonight’s Penn State basketball game

Two Michigan State basketball players were involved in an incident this morning in the Nittany Lion Inn. Diamond Leung of MLive.com is reporting that the incident was a fight, and that there was punching and shoving involved. The players involved haven’t been revealed yet, and no charges have been filed, but I’ll update this post if more info comes out.

UPDATE: The two Michigan State players involved in the fight were Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne. Both players will be benched tonight. Everything I wrote below is still relevant. Penn State obviously still needs to shoot better, but the emphasis on zone defense could be lightened if Derrick Nix goes to the bench. When Nix is on the floor, PSU does not have a single player to put on him, so they should still resort to zone.

With Payne and Dawson out, Alex Gauna (6.5 minutes per game) and Russell Byrd (9.6 minutes per game) could see more playing time. Penn State now has a legitimate chance to steal this game.

Original Story: Anyway, assuming no key Spartans are forced to sit this game out, Penn State will have its work cut out once again in its fifth Big Ten game of the season. The Lions are fresh off of their worst offensive game of the season (that’s saying something), in which they scored 42 points and shot 26 percent from the field in a loss at Purdue.

Penn State is at home tonight (7:00 ET, BTN), but the team has shown no signs so far of breaking out of its season-long offensive woes. Here’s a great video from the official PSU site showing Brandon Taylor and D.J. Newbill talking about how if the team continues to play hard, good things will happen.

Unfortunately, playing hard will not cure lousy shooting. Penn State may have a game in which someone like Taylor or Jermaine Marshall gets hot from long range, but in general it will continue to be a poor shooting team for the rest of the season.

Now, that doesn’t mean poor shooting can’t be overcome. The Lions have done a great job in the rebounding department so far this season (and that will be tested tonight versus Michigan State), but they also need to avoid turnovers and get to the foul line to make up for bad field goal shooting.

Without a pure point guard on the roster, the turnovers have been a problem, and Newbill seems to be the only player capable of reaching the free throw line consistently. Unfortunately, if his bad jump shot continues to show up on film, opponents will play more and more zone against Newbill to dissuade him from cutting to the hoop.

The good news for Penn State tonight is that Michigan State last Sunday nearly lost to Nebraska at home thanks to awful shooting performances from Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Denzel Valentine. The bad news is that all three of those guys are still better players than anyone on PSU’s roster, and that doesn’t even account for the intimidating forward duo of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne.

The Spartans are not a terrific long-range shooting team (34 percent from beyond the arc), so Penn State should run plenty of zone in this game in an attempt to keep the ball out of the hands of Nix and Payne. If Michigan State’s guards (as well as guard/forward hybrid Branden Dawson) settle for and miss a bunch of jump shots, the Lions may have a chance to be competitive.

On offense, the two focuses for PSU should be to establish some sort of shooting presence and to not turn the ball over. Michigan State is one of the worst teams in the nation at forcing turnovers, so tonight is a good opportunity for the Lions to make sure every possession ends in a shot attempt.

As will be the case in nearly every game for the rest of the season, a lot needs to go right for Penn State to pull off a victory tonight. I think Tom Izzo’s squad is too talented to play down to an inferior opponent twice in a row.

Prediction (adjusted for Sparty fight upate): MSU 60, PSU 55

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