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Penn State Basketball Preview vs. No. 6 Michigan

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Not in the face!

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It would be fitting, wouldn’t it?

A Penn State team that disappoints all season long somehow comes out and claims a giant scalp against all odds?

That’s what the Nittany Lions have a chance to do tonight when they welcome the Michigan Wolverines to the Bryce Jordan Center.

Scouting the opposition

The Wolverines, who took the first matchup 68-55 on Jan 3., are exactly what you’d expect from a Jon Beilein coached basketball team.

They do just about everything well and their well-drilled offense is bettered only by a defense that is allowing just 57.1 points per game this season. Michigan tempo-adjusted defensive rating of 84.6 ranks second in the country behind only Texas Tech.

That all starts with junior point guard Zavier Simpson, who causes havoc for opposing guards and sports a tidy 6.0 defensive box plus-minus.

On the offensive end, freshman forward Ignas Brazdekis is the straw that stirs the drink for the Wolverines.

Brazdekis has come in and blown expectations out of the water thus far in his freshman campaign. He leads Michigan with 15 points per game on a hair under 38 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Questions about his athleticism could limit how high he goes, but Brazdekis has already popped up on a number of 2019 NBA Draft boards.

What to watch for

Offensive struggles - This is a given for Penn State in almost any game in the Pat Chambers era, but the issue is magnified against a team like Michigan who shuts down offenses that do actually move the ball.

Stevens and Brazdekis - There’s a solid chance Lamar Stevens draws the assignment of guarding Iggy Brazdekis and vice versa. If Stevens can get the better of that matchup, he could give his team a shot at the upset.

Mike Watkins on the boards - Jon Teske is the leading rebounder for the Wolverines at just 6.0 per game. Mike Watkins averages 8.0 per game and at his best has shown the ability to dominate the boards. If Penn State wants to win this one, Watkins will have to create second-chance scoring opportunities and prevent them for the Wolverines.

Predictions

Oddly enough, I sort of think this is a trap game for the Wolverines. I’m not picking against them, but it’s a sleepy, snowy night in University Park sandwiched in between two games against ranked opponents for Michigan. Who knows?

Michigan 66, Penn State 61