Opponent Preview: Penn State

#16 Michigan at Penn State, 1:00 PM Sunday March 4, ESPN

With Michigan's win over Illinois on Thursday, the Big Ten title picture will finally be decided tomorrow. With a win over Penn State, and an Ohio State win over Michigan State, Michigan will gain a share of the regular season Big Ten title for the first time in over two decades. The showdown in East Lansing is later in that day, so Michigan will have to take care of business against an overmatched Penn State squad to be in position to grab the share of the title. If Ohio State loses, Michigan is assured of a two seed in the Big Ten Tournament with a win over Penn State.

Last time we met (Michigan 71, Penn State 53):

Michigan overcame a rather slow start to pull away from Penn State midway through the first half with an 8-0 run and cruised to an easy victory over the Nittany Lions to open Big Ten play. Tim Hardaway Jr. had a very good game (26 points) but it could have been even better as he missed six of his seven three point attempts. Tim Frazier scored 18 points for Penn State, but it came on 18 field goal attempts and no other Nittany Lion reached double figures. The game never was within single digits.

Since then:

Penn State has struggled mightily throughout Big Ten play. Including the opener in Ann Arbor, the Nittany Lions are 4-13 in conference and have yet to win a game outside of Happy Valley. There have been two bright spots however; a 20 point win over Purdue (which was Penn State's only win over a team that will finish in the top half of the conference) and the play of Tim Frazier, who is currently averaging over 18 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists per game and is staking his claim to a spot on the First-Team All-Big Ten team. They've lost their last three games -- a ten point loss in Madison to Wisconsin, a heartbreaking 67-66 loss to Northwestern at home, and a blowout loss on Purdue's Senior Day in which guard Cammeron Woodyard broke his foot before the game.

Players to watch:

Tim Frazier -- Frazier is really Penn State's only offensive weapon; he's on the court for over 37 minutes a game and uses almost a full third of Penn State's possessions when he's on the floor. He's a very good rebounder for his size, is a great passer, shoots well from inside (but not outside) the arc, and gets to the free throw line often.

Jermaine Marshall -- The sophomore guard is another player who is efficient from two (43.6%) but not from three (31.4%). Even though Frazier uses up a ton of possessions, Marshall still manages to score ten points per game and is Penn State's second-leading scorer.

Matt Glover -- Glover is a pretty decent rebounder, but doesn't contribute anything offensively outside of that for Penn State. It's not often that a guard gets minutes and shoots 30% from two and 18% from three, but I guess that goes to show the lack of talent at Penn State.

Sasa Borovnjak / Ross Travis / Jonathan Graham -- These are Penn State's centers, none of which have stood out. They're okay rebounders, but don't do much else. Borovnjak plays the most minutes, but hasn't scored in double figures since Big Ten play started.

Four factors profile:

Offense Big Ten Rank Defense Big Ten Rank
Effective FG % 44.5 12 54.0 11
Turnover % 18.0 5 19.9 3
Off. Rebounding % 31.4 6 28.1 3
Free Throw Rate 30.1 10 50.3 12

Keys to the game:

  1. Prevent a letdown. New coach Pat Chambers has the Nittany Lions playing extremely hard and, to their credit, they haven't quit, but they still aren't very talented and Michigan should win this one easily. Penn State is capable of beating Michigan if the Wolverines turn in a performance like they did in Iowa City, but with a Big Ten title on the line and the leadership from Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, Michigan should be firing on all cylinders.
  2. Contain Tim Frazier. Frazier is really the only Nittany Lion capable of having a big day against Michigan, so all of the defensive focus should be on him. Nobody in Penn State's rotation is very good at hitting the three, so Michigan's defense will likely collapse onto Frazier drives in the lane. Expect Douglass -- a very good defender -- to be tasked with guarding Frazier.
  3. Hope for good days from Jordan Morgan and Tim Hardaway. Morgan injured his shoulder against Illinois and appears to be okay, but a solid game from him would be very reassuring. Hardaway's done well against Penn State in his career, so this is an opportunity to build on the momentum from an excellent performance in Champaign.

Prediction:

Michigan comes out strong and pulls away from Penn State in the first half. Final score: Michigan 68, Penn State 57

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