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Penn State vs. Michigan Preview: Streaky Wolverines Present Opportunity

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The Nittany Lions' Big Ten start hasn't been ideal, but the timing of their home encounter with Michigan might be.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Who: Michigan Wolverines (8-6, 1-1)
When: Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: Bryce Jordan Center
TV: BTN
KenPom Rank: 91
Vegas Line: PSU -1.5
Enemy Blog: Maize N Brew

"You're never as good as you think you are when you win; and you're never as bad as you feel when you lose."

I forget who said that. I think it might've been Bear Bryant or something. Anyways, the point is one to take to heart for Pat Chambers' team as they prepare for the visit of John Beilein's Michigan Wolverines on Tuesday evening. Coming off a momentum-shattering loss at Rutgers on Saturday, the Nittany Lions have an opportunity to save face in their B1G home opener against the Wolverines, who aren't playing up to their usual standards this season. Penn State isn't nearly as bad as the performance in Piscataway indicated, but any team would be foolish to underestimate the talented players Michigan trots out every night.

Scouting The Opposition

Michigan has always been a young, perimeter-oriented team under Beilein. Both attributes have worked against them at times this year, as the home losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan will attest. Their big three of Derrick Walton Jr, Caris LeVert, and Zak Irvin have yet to really hit their stride this season, with only Irvin posting an ORtg over 100 thus far. LeVert hasn't reached the heights of Nik Stauskas or Trey Burke in his first season as the team's first option, nor has Walton made the sophomore jump that most people expected he would make. The problem for all three, especially the latter two? Quite simply, the shooting hasn't been there.

The Wolverines' success over the last few seasons has stemmed from their shooting - they've shot close to 55% eFG in each of the last three years. So far in 2014-15, their eFG% is just 48.8%. And that includes center Ricky Doyle's 71.1 eFG%. The 6'9" freshman has been one of a handful of consistent players for Michigan, but unfortunately for them he's only been able to play 46% of available minutes. Even with Doyle on the floor, Beilein often opts for a smaller lineup. Freshman Kameron Chatman (6'7") often starts at the 4, but Spike Albrecht will get plenty of run at the point with Chatman sliding to the bench.

What To Watch For

Michigan takes a lot of long jumpers, so Penn State's perimeter defense has to show up on Tuesday, just as it has all season. The Nittany Lions are 71st in the country in three-point field goal defense, allowing opponents to hit at a 30.6% clip on the year. Michigan shoots an average of 23 triples per game and they'll usually utilize the entire shot clock to get the best look they can (the Wolverines are 331st in adjusted tempo). If PSU can limit good looks and control the pace by playing a faster game in the 66-70 possession range, they'll have a decent shot at victory.

Of course, it'll help if D.J. Newbill, Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner don't combine to shoot 18% on 22 attempts from three as they did on Saturday night. But that's a kind of a given.

Prediction

Michigan is the more talented squad, but they're not playing with a ton of confidence at the moment. Coming off a dreadful second half at Purdue, in which they made four field goals and failed to grab a single offensive rebound, you'd have to feel that if Penn State were ever going to get a win over John Beilein it would be right now. As long as Pat Chambers can sufficiently motivate his players to perform, the Lions should be able to pull it out on their home floor. Reluctantly, I'll stick with my prediction from this week's podcast and say Penn State 69, Michigan 67.

(I know that's a Joe Paterno quote in the lede, please don't drag me through the mud.)