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Disaster Averted: Michigan 71, Penn State 65

First off:


Many more words will be said about this team's Big Ten championship, but I'm just so happy for all of the guys on this team. Obviously Stu Douglass and Zack Novak stand out as senior leaders who have done so much for the program and are rewarded with a ring and a banner for all they've put in over four years. But other guys like Trey Burke (who wasn't recruited by his hometown team and childhood favorite but still led his team to a Big Ten title as a freshman), Jordan Morgan (who overcame a couple of serious injuries to be a two-year starter and integral contributor at the five) and Tim Hardaway Jr. and Evan Smotrycz (who both have seen their share of struggles this year); they're all more than deserving of this honor. Here's to putting up a banner that won't be taken down, eh? John Beilein has built a program that does things the right way and wins championships. Let's keep this guy forever.

Onto the game (no, not Ohio State's win over Michigan State):

What looked like a comfortable Michigan win -- the Wolverines led 54-35 with under twelve minutes left in the game -- devolved into a competitive game down the stretch, but Michigan was fortunate to come out with a win. A combination of turnovers, missed shots, and Jermaine Marshall going nuts for Penn State (he finished with a career-high 27 points and was nearly unstoppable for parts of the game) contributed to a 15-2 run that put Penn State right back in the game with 5:43 left. Novak was pulled off of the bench early, despite his four fouls, and hit a tough shot to slow the run, Trey Burke came up with a huge four point play (which was negated by one from Penn State's Trey Lewis, but whatever), and a combination of big buckets and free throws from Burke and Hardaway kept Penn State from completing their comeback. They managed to cut the deficit to four twice, so this game definitely could have ended horribly if a few possessions down the stretch went the wrong way. Ken Pomeroy's computers had this as a six point Michigan win, and somehow it happened. I'm just glad that this was a win and not a devastating loss (especially considering that the Big Ten championship wouldn't have happened if Michigan would have blown the game against Penn State).

Michigan Penn State
Effective FG % 71.4 45.5
Turnover % 23.7 20.3
Off. Rebounding % 20.0 44.1
Free Throw Rate 35.7 32.7

This was Michigan's best shooting performance for the year and it carried them to victory. The Wolverines were 25-42 (59.5%) from the field, 10-18 (55.6%) from three, and 11-15 (73.3%) from the free throw line. Penn State's offensive rebounding was their biggest strength -- despite not being very big, the Nittany Lions crashed the boards hard, grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, and scored 15 second chance points. To be totally honest, it's not likely that either of those things are going to happen again -- Michigan can't shoot that well every night and they won't concede that many offensive rebounds again. For that matter, don't expect a role player like Jermaine Marshall to score 27 against Michigan either.

Player Bullets:

  • Trey Burke -- I don't think that anyone should be surprised by performances like this, but still, it's hard not to be amazed by Burke; 19 points on 6-10 shooting, a clutch four point play, an impossible driving layup late in the game, and a cool 5-5 from the free throw line to seal it is impressive. Cody Zeller might deserve the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award, but Burke definitely is a first-team All-Big Ten player.
  • Evan Smotrycz -- It's hard not to be encouraged by Evan Smotrycz's performance. For the first time in a while, Smotrycz was confident, assertive offensively, and very active on defense. He had an efficient 17 points on 6-7 shooting (3-4 from three), and looked like he was in December form.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr. -- Tim started off hot with seven points in the first ten minutes, but cooled off considerably and turned it over five times in the game. Dylan put it best in his recap at UMHoops: "I still think we’re seeing mental improvement from Hardaway, he was engaged in the game even on the bench – jumping up and down when Vogrich picked up a block – and had the mental fortitude to hit a huge jumper late in the game to help ice it away." I was impressed with Hardaway's attitude as well.
  • Jordan Morgan -- Not so good for the big man. Despite playing against Penn State's cast of mediocre big men (although Ross Davis had a very good game), Morgan didn't do well -- two points and five rebounds in 21 minutes isn't going to cut it in March. Some of Penn State's offensive rebounding success came at his expense too.
  • Zack Novak -- Novak was saddled with foul trouble and was limited to 25 minutes, but he still was 4-6 from the field and scored 11 points. His contested two point jumper was huge coming out of a timeout late in the game.
  • Stu Douglass -- Another excellent defensive day -- Tim Frazier was held to 11 points on 16 field goal attempts and had three turnovers -- along with some very good offense (4-5 shooting, 9 points, and 6 assists). Douglass is perhaps even more underrated by Novak, but he's continued to impress down the stretch. His two point shooting (3-3 today) has really improved.
I guess we can just chalk this up as a weird road win, CELEBRATE OUR BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP, and move on to the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. Michigan gets a bye on the first day for the second year in a row and will face the winner of the 7/10 game between Minnesota and Northwestern. Michigan hasn't lost to either of these teams yet this year, but all three games have come down to the wire. It should be an interesting weekend as Michigan jockeys for position in the NCAA Tournament.