The first meeting was supposed to have been a mirage. A bump in the road following the toughest stretch of Michigan's season, a game in which the Wolverines had to not only beat a plucky underdog, but also overcome the weight of those previous three losses that came in the four games prior.
It wasn't supposed to be anything but a blip. Instead, it was a harbinger of what was in store for Michigan. The mistakes that the Wolverines made the first time around were even more glaring on the road, and Happy Valley was much happier last night as Penn State notched its first Big Ten win (it's almost March for chrissake) and Michigan crawled home nursing ever more apparent wounds.
Coming into the game, Michigan held a pretty sizable advantage in the four factors:
This wouldn't hold as the Nittany Lions won the statistical battle pretty much everywhere. The eFG% for both teams ended up at 56 percent (yes, that is a win for Penn State which came in averaging an eFG% of 43) thanks to Penn State making half of its 20 three point attempts as compared to Michigan's five makes on the same number of tries.
Penn State turned the ball over less (nine times to 15 for Michigan) while shooting more free throws. Michigan's one statistical win in the four factors? Offensive rebounding rate; those four extra offensive boards weren't quite enough.
Ultimately, this game came down to defense. Which team got more stops. While Michigan's offense hummed along at its normal proficient rate in the early going -- scoring 1.14 ppp for the game -- the Wolverines offense stalled near the end. With ten minutes left in the game, Michigan had a 15 point lead. Over the next five minutes that lead would evaporate to nothing. The Wolverines were on the wrong side of a 23-8 run.
Even worse, Michigan's last made field goal came with 6:37 left in the game. The last four points would all come from the line. It was a grim stretch. Michigan's possessions until the end of the game would end in about every disastrous manner possible:
- missed field goal (four possessions)
- missed free throw (three possessions)
- turnover (two possessions)
- made free throw (just one possession)
Meanwhile, Penn State's offense hummed along at the most efficient rate possible. The Nittany Lions scored 1.22 ppp with 33 points coming in the final 10:39 of the game. Penn State made its twos (45.9%; two percentage points better than its season average); its threes (50 percent for the game on 20 attempts); and its free throws (20 of 27).
There really isn't any positive way to spin this, so I won't add the obligatory "Trey Burke is still good, guys" bullet or talk about Hardaway Jr.'s reemergence as an offensive threat (19 points for the game).
Michigan had a 15 point lead and lost it. Michigan had almost seven minutes over the final stretch of the game to score a basket from the floor and failed. Michigan's defense had all the chances in the world to force Penn State to play the same terrible basketball it has played all season. Michigan failed, failed, failed, and spectacularly so.
This is your worst case scenario, and facing two of three games against top-10 teams vying for a chance to win the conference, it isn't hard to imagine Michigan's conference record ending up worse than last season's.
Let's all take a couple days off to think about something else for a while. We can reconvene on Sunday for what will hopefully be a more focused, efficient game from Michigan.
Judging by last night's results, I'm not going to hold my breath.