Talking about Penn State basketball and the level of ineptitude that it has reached recently can easily slide into hyperbole. You try to formulate an analogy but end up stuck on all the old cliches: it's a dumpster fire, it's a train wreck, bringing PSU's team to a basketball game is like bringing a teddy bear to a gun fight. It's all good for a laugh, but that's about it.
The fact is, Penn State is just bad at basketball. Unremarkably, unquestionably bad. The Nittany Lions best win of the year is probably a three-point victory over Bucknell. Of course, the game before Penn State was blown out by Akron, and the game after was a loss to Boston College, so just like everything else this season, every little bit of success has been blanketed in failure.
The biggest problem for the Nittany Lions this year is that the entire offense is injured. Well, not really the entire offense, but the driving force for everything Penn State has been able to accomplish on that side of the ball over the past few years. That's right, Tim Fraizer went down early this year with an injured Achilles heel, which segues nicely into a joke about how his Achilles heel is actually the teams Achilles heel. In his stead, Penn State has:
- DJ Newbill, a sophomore guard that has taken over Frazier's incredibly high usage rate (both players use over 30 percent of the team's possessions). There is both good (an assist rate of 30 percent and 6.2 fouls drawn per 40) and bad (42.8 eFG% and 20 percent from behind the arc on 54 attempts).
- Jermaine Marshall, a junior guard that is similarly high usage (26 percent of possessions) and is Penn State's best outside threat (40 of 129 from three). He also doesn't shoot the ball very well (eFG% of 44.6) but is Penn State's second leading scorer and the player with the highest steal rate (2.8%) on the team.
- Ross Travis, a sophomore swingman that someone let take 38 threes despite him only having made five of them thus far. He does lead the team in defensive rebounding percentage, although his eFG% is seriously 35.4, which is pretty terrible.
- Brandon Taylor (Fr) and Sasa Borovnjak (Jr) are the closest thing Penn State has to any height inside, despite being just 6'7 and 6'9 respectively. Both average six points and three rebounds. Taylor can shoot from outside (well, relatively. He's 30 percent from three).
- Doom, seriously.
Michigan's keys to win
Show up. This may sound like a complete and total dismissal of Penn State's basketball team. It isn't. It is only mostly a dismissal. Michigan should be able to cruise to an easy win. Everyone else in the Big Ten has, after all. Penn State couldn't even beat Nebraska with two tries, and odds are very good that the Nittany Lions don't win a Big Ten game all year. Michigan obviously didn't show up to play in East Lansing on Tuesday. A similar no-show could make this one tight.
Score. Again, not totally a shot at Penn State, but rather a plea for this team to go on another offensive tear. After the rough stretch of games, Michigan is in need of another big offensive day to shake the rust off. The game is at home against a team that doesn't have great size and doesn't play great defense. This is the time for Michigan's offense to once again assert itself.
Make Penn State's offense look like Penn State's offense. Michigan State made Michigan's defense look silly. Indiana did too. Even Ohio State and Wisconsin had success. Michigan's defense is going to be an issue. Michigan needs to show that it isn't a huge issue by not allowing Penn State to do much offensively.
This is the kind of game where you want to see the Wolverines come out and play 40 minutes of pedal to the metal basketball, winning by 30-plus and taking every bit of frustration out on a hapless Penn State team. I'd like to see it, but I would be fine with a comfortable 15-20 point win as well. As long as it isn't close.
Still, Michigan is at home after a few days rest against a team that hasn't beaten anyone since 2012. Kenpom says 25. I concur.