Game 31: Big Ten Tournament - Michigan Preview

USA TODAY Sports

These teams met twice in the regular season. Both games were hotly contested, but this is March, and Michigan has everything to play for.

Who: Michigan Wolverines (25-6, 12-6)
When: Thursday, 25 minutes after the completion of the noon ET game. So probably around 2:30pm.
Where: United Center, Chicago, IL
TV: BTN

Despite landing the fifth seed in the Big Ten tournament, Michigan had themselves quite a season. Burdened with high expectations and the conference's youngest (albeit, a very talented) roster, the Wolverines finished just one spot below the preseason ranking of which the Coaches and AP polls deemed them worthy. This in itself is an accomplishment, and they have every right to be proud of how they performed this season.

Except, maybe, for one game. One night in State College, in that basketball crypt known as the Bryce Jordan Center. One night, where rankings and metrics were checked at the door and the lowliest of the lowly, 0-14 Penn State, finally got theirs. Michigan had four losses at that point, but each of those losses could be forgiven, or at least rationalized; the games at Ohio State, Indiana and Wisconsin were always going to be tough, and there was no shame in losing any of those games in close fashion. Certainly, the blowout loss against little brother in East Lansing provided more cognitive dissonance than any defeat up to that point, but even that could be reasonably explained.

But losing to a winless team? Losing a game to a winless team that the Wolverines led by 15 midway through the second half? How do you rationalize that one? Surely, that game sticks in John Beilein's craw. Surely, that game keeps former PSU commit Trey Burke awake at night. Surely, Michigan wants revenge.

Surely, Penn State can't do that again. The Nittany Lions have played increasingly well since then, save a drab effort at Minnesota where they couldn't muster a single point for the first 12 minutes of the game. They got their first Big Ten road win under Pat Chambers at Northwestern--to be fair, Northwestern has been dreadful since the Jared Swopshire injury--but nothing is guaranteed on the road in the Big Ten. Just ask Michigan.

The Wolverines found out nothing is guaranteed at home, either. Their Big Ten title hopes were dashed by Indiana in dramatic fashion, losing a game in which they were up by five with 40 seconds to go. They were a timely gust of wind during Jordan Morgan's tip-in away from victory, but here they are in the first round against Penn State.

The Lions are coming directly off a heartbreaking loss of their own against Wisconsin. Penn State went shot for shot with the Badgers, but unfortunately Bucky got the last sip in the bottle as Traevon Jackson hit a contested jumper from 25 feet as time expired. Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill once again led the charge with 23 and 22 points, respectively, in what can be described as a confidence-building loss. This team knows they can compete with the big boys.

In Penn State's win over Michigan, Marshall exploded for 25 points, Newbill had himself 17 and Ross Travis had the game of his life with 15 points and 12 rebounds. The Nittany Lions shot 47.7% from the floor, including 10-20 from behind the arc, and got to the free throw line 27 times. Offensive explosions aren't what this team is known for, but then again they shot 43% at Crisler. For whatever reason, Penn State has what it takes to break down the Wolverines' defense.

But surely Michigan, a team with everything to play for, including a number one seed in the NCAA tournament, will handle their lowly opponent. Surely.

Right?


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