The Big Ten has been an absolute meat grinder this season. As a result, life on the road has been a difficult one for B1G teams. On Wednesday night, the Nittany Lions will look to buck this trend.
Following a much-needed victory over then-21st ranked Ohio State on Saturday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Nittany Lions’ three game losing streak has ended. This was also the team’s third victory of the season over a top 25 opponent, but none of these victories have come on the road. While Michigan is unranked, Pat Chambers and his team need to start getting victories on the road if they are going to make the NCAA Tournament. That begins Wednesday night in Ann Arbor.
Scouting the Opposition
Juwan Howard returned to his alma mater during the off-season to become Michigan’s new head coach. After starting the year unranked, Howard led the Wolverines to being ranked as high as 4th in the AP Poll this season. Granted, this stretch does not look as impressive as it once did, as the key victory came against what has proven to be a bad North Carolina team. The Wolverines’ hot start has been followed by a 3-5 stretch in their last eight games, and has dropped them from the Top 25.
7-foot-1, 265-pound senior Jon Teske is the straw that stirs the Wolverines drink. He is leading the team in scoring (14.3 PPG), rebounding (7.6 RPG), and field goal percentage (55.6%). This will make it vital that Mike Watkins stays out of foul trouble and brings his A-game on Wednesday night. No offense to John Harrar or Trent Buttrick, but neither of them are capable of holding up against Teske if they’re asked to give extended minutes.
Overall, the Wolverines are a pretty “meh” offensive team. They average 78.2 PPG, which is good for just 45th nationally. Defensively, they have struggled, as Michigan ranks 203rd nationally in scoring defense, allowing 69.8 PPG. In conference play, this number has ballooned to 83.0 PPG allowed.
A reason that Michigan’s offense has fallen on hard times is due to missing forward Isaiah Livers. The junior was averaging 13.6 PPG while shooting 51% from three before injuring his groin. While he is getting closer to returning, he is expected to miss his sixth consecutive game on Wednesday night.
One area the Wolverines can cause problems for an opposing defense is from beyond the arc. Michigan is shooting 36% from three-point range this season, which is second in the Big Ten. Eli Brooks, Zavier Simpson, Franz Wagner, and David DeJulius can all be threats from downtown for Michigan.
The Wolverines also struggle to rebound the basketball. Overall, they rank 239th nationally in rebounding. They check in 97th nationally in defensive rebounding and 286th in offensive rebounding.
What to Watch for
Watkins v. Teske - This is the battle that may decide this game. When he is on the court and playing to his potential, Watkins is as good as any big man in the conference. He is also a defensive force when playing his game. If the Nittany Lions are going to win on Wednesday night they must keep Teske in check, and that is up to Watkins.
Life on the road - Home teams have been dominant in Big Ten play this season. The conference-wide road struggles have most certainly included the Nittany Lions, who are 0-3 on the road in Big Ten play. If Penn State is going to make the NCAA Tournament, they likely will need to win a road game in conference play. With seven road games remaining, including difficult trips to East Lansing, Bloomington, West Lafayette, and Iowa City, the Nittany Lions get their first shot tonight.
Big Ten teams have struggled on the road this season. However, the Lions buck this trend on Wednesday night and earn a big road win that could pay dividends come March.
Penn State 80, Michigan 75