Due to the Big Ten starting conference play earlier this season with a pair of conference games in December, the Nittany Lions already have a pair of conference losses under their belt. Mix in a lackluster effort in non-conference play, and you have Penn State entering the true start of Big Ten play with a 7-6 record.
Things will not get any easier for Pat Chambers squad as they will play one of the best teams in the country on Thursday night. A trip to Ann Arbor to battle No. 2, 13-0 Michigan awaits the Nittany Lions. It goes without saying that this will be a tall task for Chambers and company if they wish to pull off their second upset of a top-15 team this season.
Scouting The Opposition
Michigan is the best team Penn State has played this season. The undefeated Wolverines are led by one of the best coaches in the country in John Beilein, and they have all the tools necessary to reach the Final Four in April.
If Michigan has a weakness, it is their offense. The Wolverines rank 211th nationally in points per game (73.2) and 105th in field goal percentage (46.7%). However, both of these numbers are better than the Nittany Lions.
The Wolverines also hold a big advantage in rebounding. While their 5.2 rebound margin is just 70th in the country, Penn State’s 2.0 rebound margin is tied for 170th in the country.
What makes the Wolverines great is their defense. Michigan ranks third nationally in scoring defense and 22nd in opposition field goal percentage. This does not bode well for a Nittany Lion team that struggles mightily shooting the basketball.
Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis leads the Wolverines in scoring at 16.5 PPG. Senior Charles Matthews (13.9 PPG) and sophomore Jordan Poole (13.5 PPG) also average double digits for Beilein’s squad. 7-foot-1 Jon Teske is averaging a team high 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game and will be a challenge for Mike Watkins and John Harrar in battling for rebounds.
What to Watch For
Can The Nittany Lions Score Enough? - Michigan is one of the best defensive teams in the country. As you read above, the Wolverines are allowing just 55.1 points per game which is the third best PPG total in the country. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions are tied for 275th nationally in scoring at 70.1 PPG. If Penn State is going to pull the upset, they’re going to have to shoot better than the 42% that they have so far this season.
Can Lamar Stevens Get Back On Track? - To upset a team like Michigan your best players must be at their best. Lamar Stevens is not just Penn State’s best player, but he is also one of the best in Big Ten and he must play like it on Thursday night. In his last two games Stevens is just 12/30 from the field, including 0/6 from behind the arc, and 4/8 from the free throw line. Stevens must be better than this in order for the Nittany Lions to pull the upset.
Can The Nittany Lions Keep It Close? - The first step to pulling off an upset in any sport is to keep the game close entering the closing minutes. If an underdog does this then all the pressure is on the favorites. So, can the Nittany Lions keep this game close heading into halftime? The final 10 minutes? The final 5 minutes? If so, they may have a chance. If not, it could get ugly.
Talent-wise, Penn State is probably a better team than their 7-6 record indicates. That said, Michigan is one of the best teams in the country and a far superior team and program than Penn State. It will show on Thursday night. Michigan 75, Penn State 60