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Penn State at Michigan Preview: The Gauntlet Begins

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The Nittany Lions open up Big Ten play on the road yet again, facing the Michigan Wolverines.

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

Penn State’s gauntlet of a Big Ten season begins on the road, as it usually does. This time, the Nittany Lions get to visit the Michigan Wolverines for what hopes to be their second consecutive road win of the season, and the second consecutive win at Crisler Center.

Both teams are out to great starts this season, with the lone loss between the two coming last week, when the Nittany Lions let one slip away against Seton Hall. Both teams are also shooting the ball better than they were the year prior. Both teams play much faster than they did the season before, as well, as both Michigan and Penn State sit above 71 possessions per game (Penn State is the faster team of the two). And lastly, both teams lost a veteran guy who started for them for four seasons —Michigan’s Xavier Simpson and Penn State’s Lamar Stevens.

Scouting the Opposition

As mentioned above, The Wolverines are shooting the ball better than they were last season, even with the loss of Simpson from the point guard spot. In fact, their offense is ranked 7th in the nation in adjusted efficiency. Leading the charge is Isaiah Livers, whose 48.1% rate from three leads the team. The Wolverines’ other standout shooter, Chaundee Brown, is making them at a 46.2% clip. Outside of those two however, only Eli Brooks has anything resembling a three point shot (36.4% on the year), and nobody has attempted more than 12 shots from three this season.

Penn State showed some competence inside last time out, and it would be great if they continued to show that aptitude, as Michigan has two players who not only are tall in Franz Wagner and Hunter Dickinson, but they’re both have an imposing presence, and could make life difficult for the Lions if they don’t come to play. Dickinson’s block rate of 6.5 is 125th in the nation, and Wagner isn’t a slouch himself, blocking 2.5% of shots when he’s on the floor.

What to Watch For

As mentioned above, Michigan has three outside shooters, but likes to work inside. Contrast that with the Nittany Lions, whose only player with meaningful minutes and without an attempt from three-point range is Abdou Tsimbila, and it’s easy to see where the Lions can grab the edge.

The last two times these teams have played, as smaller lineup by the Lions has proven to be effective. Now that Michigan is playing fast, however, it would have to be seen if this strategy will continue to pay dividends. Most importantly, however, Penn State needs to stay out of foul trouble if it plans to keep pace with this Michigan team.

Prediction

I’d love nothing but to see the Nittany Lions go into Crisler yet again and come out with the win. But Michigan is a much better team than Virginia Tech, even if the latter was ranked in the top 15. Michigan 85, Penn State 81.