It's go time. Michigan and Penn State square off tonight at 8pm in Crisler Arena. Whether anyone admits it or not, this is a must win game early in the season for Michigan. What makes it difficult is Penn State possesses many of the same attributes of the Purdue team that just crushed Michigan over the weekend.
Penn State has two good players and one All-Big Ten guard/forward/tweener in Geary Claxton. He'll probably get matched up with Petway, who has the size and hopefully the quickness to guard him. That match up will be key as Claxton is their best player. Helping down low will be pure forward Jamelle Cornley who's having a solid season averaging almost 14 a game. They can and will pound him inside until Sims cries or breaks in two. Also be aware the two forwards rebound hard so it'll be up to Michigan to keep them in check on the glass. On the outside look for Danny Morrissey to keep the pressure off the inside players as PSU's main outside shooter. He can play as witnessed by his Big Ten POTW status and 12 ppg average. I'm guessing Dion Harris will draw the assignment of guarding him. Bottom line: If Michigan gets eaten alive inside again, it could make for a long night for Michigan fans.
Penn State hasn't won once on the road this season which means one of two things: 1) They're bad on the road and Michigan should take this game; or 2) They're due.
Sims, Petway and Udoh have to become forces if Michigan is going anywhere. Teams have seen how easy it is to exploit Michigan down low if you're willing to work at it, and if a team is hungry and Sims isn't, Michigan's in trouble. A loss at home to Penn State will pretty much end Michigan's tourney hopes. With the hardest part of the schedule coming up, Michigan must stockpile wins against non-tourney teams to compensate for their miserable schedule.
A big thing to look for will be whether Jarret Smith sees the floor at all. He played miserably against Purdue, turning the ball over three times while failing to record a point or an assist. I'm guessing Reed Baker will be the first off the bench at point guard (at least I hope so) with Sheperd spelling Lester when he needs a break. There's been talk that Sheperd is going to try to assert himself and be more aggressive but I'll believe it when I see it.
The Detroit News gets a massive hat tip for at least trying to follow the season. Eric Lacy gives a great preview, including a "who to watch for" piece. Look for DeShawn Sims to attempt to assert himself. There's also an internets only write up that's pretty comprehensive. The Ann Arbor News' blog The Diag provides a great write up as well. The Free Press barely mentions tonight's game.
Keep your fingers crossed. We need this one.
UPDATE: Michigan throttles Penn State 77-57Three starters scored 13 points, Baker had 8, Udoh had 7 and Jerrett Smith had 5 assists and 9 points. Total domination by Michigan. They out-rebounded, out-assisted, out everythinged Penn State. More tommorrow.