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3/27 NIT Preview: Penn State returns to Madison Square Garden for NIT Semifinals

The Nittany Lions will have to beat Mississippi State to move on to the NIT championship game on Thursday.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Penn State Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan booked their ticket to the Final Four on Saturday night, but the Wolverines aren’t the only Big Ten team still playing right now. Let’s not forget about the Penn State Nittany Lions, who will be playing in the NIT Final Four this evening.

The Nittany Lions were on the fringe of making the NCAA Tournament all season long and they have certainly proved their worth throughout the NIT. Penn State has reeled off three straight victories against solid competition to find themselves in a NIT Final Four matchup against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have also looked impressive in this tournament, which included a seven-point victory over Nebraska in the first round.

Penn State experience some magic at Madison Square Garden about a month ago, so can they duplicate that this week? Let’s take a close look at this intriguing matchup between Penn State and Mississippi State.

No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions vs. No. 4 Mississippi State Bulldogs

  • Time/TV: 9:00PM ET/ESPN
  • KenPom Spread: Penn State (-2.5)

This NIT semifinals matchup should be a fun one to watch with both teams playing solid ball entering this contest. Plus, this is a great opportunity for both programs to build up some steam entering next season so expect both Penn State and Mississippi State to come out ready to play.

Offensively, Penn State has had scoring threats all season long, led by Tony Carr. The stellar sophomore guard struggled in the NIT opener against Temple, but has been electric in the last two games with 49 combined points and 11 assists. Shep Garner and Lamar Stevens have also been very productive on the offensive end during the NIT, with the two combining for 31 points per game in these three contests.

An interesting and beneficial element that has come out of Penn State’s offensive attack lately is the ability to get to the free throw line. Penn State has shot at least 20 free throw attempts in each of their last five games, and is averaging just under 25 attempts per game. Even better, the Nittany Lions are making just over 77% of those shots from the charity stripe. Both of those averages are higher than their season totals so that certainly could be a reason why the Nittany Lions are 4-1 during this stretch of games.

Mississippi State also has some players who can put the ball through the hoop at a high level, starting with Quinndary Weatherspoon. The junior guard is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, averaging 14.7 points per game. He also is snagging six rebounds and dishing 3.4 assists per game this year. It’ll be fun to watch Quinndary go up against that highly talented Penn State backcourt.

Also keep an eye on junior forward Aric Holman in this matchup. Holman has been great during the NIT, averaging 15 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. It’s even more impressive when you realize he’s putting up those numbers despite playing only 23.3 minutes per game. Whoever gets a better performance out of their star forward — Stevens for Penn State and Holman for Mississippi State — will be in good position to win this game.

When you make it this far into the NIT, there shouldn’t be any worries about either team not being motivated to play. Yes, this isn’t the same as playing in the NCAA Tournament Final Four, but it’s still an opportunity to play for a championship and that’s important — especially for a team like Penn State.

The Nittany Lions have done some impressive things in this tournament and have the guys capable to win this game. This would also be a great springboard for next season with the Nittany Lions potentially only losing one key contributor from this year’s team. This game on paper is a toss up, but I’m leaning towards Penn State to continue their winning ways in the Big Apple.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Penn State