Coming into this game, Penn State is 3-3 against the top half of the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions will look to clinch get a winning record against the top half in the their last two games. They also come in at 9-7 in conference play, needing just one more win to clinch a winning conference record for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Michigan is coming off their own standout performances against Iowa and Ohio State, putting themselves in prime position for a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament. The Wolverines have seen a defensive resurgence as of late, which has somewhat masked their poor shooting in the past six games. Michigan has failed to shoot over 40% from three five times, twice failing to even reach 30%. For a team that lives and dies by the three, this puts a ton of pressure on their inside game.
The Wolverines are not the only team who have seen a defensive resurgence, however. Penn State is 19th in the nation in adjusted defense, exactly one spot above Michigan. If the Nittany Lions are able to make the Wolverines uncomfortable inside, they may very well run away with this one.
Scouting the opposition
Michigan is not unlike Purdue in many cases, as they build their offense off Moritz Wagner inside, surrounding him with several players who can get hot from three at any given point. Lately that cast has been Jordan Poole, Duncan Robinson, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Wagner himself can step outside and shoot the three; he is in fact Michigan’s best three-point shooter at 38.9%.
Therein lies the rub for the Wolverines; their best outside shooter and big man only shoots 38% from outside the arc, while Charles Matthews has been fairly inconsistent as of late. Combine that with the Wolverines’ already slow pace, and it becomes clear that offense is not where this team is going to beat you. It’s the 20.2 turnover rate and 9.4 steal rate where they make most of their noise. While not as prolific as Josh Reaves (or Jamari Wheeler, for that matter), Zavier Simpson is capable of making life difficult with his own 2.6 steal%. Penn State will need to take better care of the ball if they want to be in control of this game.
What to watch for
Hot shooting - Only one Big Ten team has been able to beat Michigan without shooting at least 45% from the floor. That team was Northwestern, and they did so by completely shutting down Michigan on offense. Penn State would rather be in the former category, as Michigan can get hot at any point.
Foul trouble - One of the biggest reasons for Purdue’s comeback was foul trouble on both Mike Watkins and Shep Garner. If the Nittany Lions can keep their starters on the floor for most of the game, they should have a good chance at the win.
Senior night - This is Garner and Julian Moore’s last game at Bryce Jordan.* Let’s hope they go out with a bang.
I don’t think we’ll see the domination we saw a week ago against Ohio State, but I can’t in good conscience see anything other than a win for the Nittany Lions. Shep’s last game, whiteout crowd, NCAA Tournament bid on the line, there’s just too much to play for. Penn State 69, Michigan 64.
*Unless they fall into the NIT in which case they’ll have a few more games at home.