Penn State Basketball: Did Tom Izzo Expose a Fatal Flaw?

Penn State Basketball
Penn State Nittany Lions guard Kanye Clary (0) (Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire)

It’s no secret that Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in perhaps the history of college basketball.  And as his Spartans beat the Nittany Lions for the second time this week, the Michigan State basketball team completely neutralized one of Penn State‘s greatest strengths.

Known for his havoc defense at VCU, Nittany Lions Head Coach Mike Rhoades brought over his full court press style of defense, led by transfer Ace Baldwin.  While it’s been some hit and some miss throughout the year, the statistics clearly show when Penn State presses well and forces turnovers, they win games. 

When the Nittany Lions can’t turnover opponents, they lose, that simple.

I was able to ask Coach Izzo about his strategy in beating the full court press in the post game press conference. He answered that his advantage is playing three guards, stating that normally teams that press don’t press them because of that lineup. 

“I think the one thing we do have is three guards,” Izzo explained. “It hurts us against a team like Illinois because we’re so small. But, those small guards are actually better against the press. Teams that normally press us, haven’t pressed us. We get the ball up there quickly, we should have had a couple more. That’s what we do.”

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Rhoades tried the press anyway and the Spartans simply passed the ball right over the press, leading to 8 fast break points in the first half alone, and as Izzo referred later in his answer, “probably should have been a bit more.”

Rhoades even referenced later in the press conference that “(Spartan Malik) Hall inbounds the ball faster than anyone.” 

It’s true, Michigan State didn’t do anything too special, but were simply able to not just neutralize but take advantage of the Penn State press.

Will other teams view this tape and try to take similar advantage?  Only time will tell, but you can beat Nebraska Head Coach Fred Hoiberg watched the tape of this game and will be ready for the Penn State press when the Nittany Lions visit the Pinnacle Bank Area at 12:00 pm Saturday.

Evan Smith

Evan Smith

Evan Smith is an alum of Penn State (Marketing, Economics, 2011) and a basketball season ticket holder since 2006. NittanyCentral is his second reporting job following the Men's Basketball program. He co-founded and co-hosts the Shots Gotta Fall - The Penn State Basketball Podcast (the premiere, the best, the only) with Steve Travis. Smith's most proud moment covering the team was seeing the national No. 9 ranking during Pat Chambers' last year. His most embarrassing moment was spending almost a thousand dollars to travel 2,000 miles in 46 hours to watch the Nittany Lions lose to Temple in the 2011 NCAA Tournament (screw you Juan Fernandez).