Michigan takes on Penn State tonight at 7:30 EST in the newly rechristened Crisler Center on the Big Ten Network. Michigan is currently 10-2 and ranked #16 in the country (AP), while Penn State is 8-5. It is the first conference game for both teams.
Season to date:
It's been a rough year for the Nittany Lions. After suffering the losses of Talor Battle -- who might have been the best player ever to play for Penn State -- Jeff Brooks, and two other seniors, as well as coach Ed DeChellis, hopes were not high entering this season. Penn State started off 3-0 against some cupcakes at home before losing to Kentucky by 38 at a neutral site in Connecticut. They notched their best win of the year against South Florida the next day, 53-49. Penn State won another bodybag game at home before losing 4 of 5 (the only win came against a pathetic Boston College team on the road), including a home loss to 5-7 Lafayette of the Patriot League. They finished the non-conference season with two more easy wins to get to 8-5. New head coach Pat Chambers has brought much-needed enthusiasm to Penn State's moribund basketball program and the team is making positive changes, but he'll need time.
It's all about Tim Frazier for the Nittany Lions. Like Battle a year ago, Frazier is Penn State's most valuable player; he's on the floor the most and uses the most possessions when he's in the game. He's having a stellar year too: 17 points per game, 7 assists per game (and the second-highest assist rate in the country), and 6 rebounds per game while being pretty efficient is certainly impressive. Jermaine Marshall is the second-leading scorer for Penn State with almost 10 points per game. Billy Oliver is 6'8" but attempts almost three times as many shots from behind the arc as he does from inside (and he's only a 33% three point shooter). Sasa Borovnjak and Ross Travis are the other post options, and play much more interior roles. Trey Lewis and Cammeron Woodyard are the two best shooters on the team and are two of its most efficient options outside of Frazier.
Normalized four factors:
If there's one thing that Penn State does well, it's rebounding. The Nittany Lions pull down 38% of their missed shots and only allow their opponents to grab 27% of their missed shots. Nobody really stands out as a great individual rebounder -- even though it's impressive that Frazier can pull down 6 per game at 6'1" -- but they rebound well collectively. Penn State is poor on offense outside of their rebounding, especially shooting the ball. On defense, they're average, but really struggle at forcing turnovers.
Keys for Michigan:
- Contain Tim Frazier. Seems obvious enough, but in last year's game in Ann Arbor, Talor Battle went off for 31 and almost led Penn State to an upset. Frazier probably isn't as good as Battle was, but if Michigan can focus on Frazier well enough and limit his production, his teammates won't be able to pick up the slack. A high assist rate is another arrow in Frazier's quiver (so to speak), but his scoring is his most important asset.
- Don't let Penn State beat you from outside. As Eric Gibson notes in his Q&A with UMHoops, Penn State will need to hit a lot of threes to spring an upset. The Nittany Lions shoot a lot of threes as a team, but aren't very good at converting their attempts into points. Closing out and rotating onto shooters has been one of Michigan's weaknesses defensively, but they'll need to do a good job of that against Penn State.
- Hold onto the ball. Michigan's humming along offensively and their only glaring weaknesses are their frustrating propensity for turnovers and lack of free throw attempts. Penn State doesn't do a good job of forcing turnovers and Michigan's not likely to attack the rim much more than they do already, so if UM succeeds in holding onto the ball, Penn State won't be able to keep up with Michigan's high-powered offense.
Michigan 70, Penn State 54