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Penn State Aims to Close Month With a Win

It’s matchup No. 2 between the Wolverines and Lions in a critical marquee at the BJC

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Michigan Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

With January’s close fast approaching, things are beginning to sort themselves out in a muddled Big Ten race. There are teams who are streaking in a good way (Purdue, Northwestern, and Indiana), while there are teams whose recent play means they’ll just be March spoilers (Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio State). Meanwhile, Michigan and Penn State are part of a major logjam in the middle of the league. Penn State finds itself 4-5 in conference play, just outside the field in many projected brackets, and having alternated wins and losses for most of the month. They’ll hope to get another win on Sunday against the Wolverines, who handed the Lions a 79-69 loss back while we were still all enjoying the Rose Bowl afterglow.

This is a critical game for the Nittany Lions’ NCAA hopes. A pair of road games follow, including a trip to West Lafayette on Wednesday to play the top-ranked team in the country. Sunday will mark the first time that Penn State faces a conference team for the second time this year.

Scouting the Opposition

Speaking of those Wolverines, Juwan Howard’s team has also been on the back-and-forth bus, having alternated wins and losses in their past five outings. On Thursday, before a sold out crowd at the Crisler Center, Michigan battled conference-leading Purdue all the way to the buzzer before falling 75-70.

In that game, Hunter Dickinson showed the inside-out prowess that has made him dangerous in his career as the 7’1 center had 21 points (4-of-7 from 3-point range), seven rebounds, and four assists. He’ll be the focal point of Penn State’s defense again. In the matchup earlier this month, Dickinson did all of his damage in the paint as he led the Wolverines with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He did not attempt a 3-point shot.

Guard Jett Howard had 14 points at home against Penn State the first time, but the head coach’s son is a game-time decision on Sunday with an ankle injury that kept him out of the Purdue game earlier this week. Howard is second in 3-point makes in the Big Ten, behind Andrew Funk.

In Howard’s absence, Joey Baker was inserted into the starting lineup and made three 3-point shots against the Boilermakers. That matches the number of 3-pointers he hit against Penn State, a team-high in that game.

What to Watch For

How will Penn State handle Dickinson? - It’s pretty easy to copy and paste with the Lions this year. Most of the conference has an experienced, talented big man who will have the potential to cause Penn State problems. That’s Dickinson and we’ve already seen it happen this month. The great fun about a 20-game conference schedule is seeing the depth of knowledge, familiarity, and ultimately adjustments that come from a coaching staff. Let’s see what Coach Shrews has in store.

Can Penn State get the three-point shot going? - At this point in the season it is abundantly obvious that to find offensive success Penn State needs three-point shots to be dropping.It will be no different on Tuesday night Sunday afternoon as they go up against a very moderately good Big Ten defensive club in Rutgers Michigan. If Andrew Funk, Seth Lundy, Myles Dread, etc. can not get going from three, it could be a very long night for the Nittany Lion offense. Yes, that’s a copy and paste job from earlier this week at Rutgers where Penn State suffered one of its worst shooting nights of the year. Back at home, they should be better - and they’ll need to be.


In keeping with the theme from this month, I think Penn State bounces back from disappointment to come away with a critical win. Michigan is scary team with a number of capable, albeit young guards, and a proven commodity in the post. Still, something hasn’t quite clicked for the Wolverines to be consistent. Meanwhile, Penn State has had several days to stew on their horrific offensive performance at the RAC. They’ve also had plenty of time to get shots up - and more of them go in on Sunday. Penn State 71, Michigan 63