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Michigan at Penn State

The Wolverines travel to not so Happy Valley to hopefully deny the Nittany Lions their first Big Ten win of the year.

We missed you and your steady-handed, no-frills defense.
We missed you and your steady-handed, no-frills defense.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Since last we met

Both teams played Illinois. Michigan won by 13. Penn State lost by five.

Big Ten scheduling can get weird, yo.

The team

In this instance we will probably get a lot more looking at what Penn State did against Michigan specifically than what Penn State has done against everyone else.

Michigan struggled to defend an otherwise poor Penn State offense and the Nittany Lions ended up with four players scoring in double figures. The player that most gave Michigan trouble was Sasa Borovnjak who ended the game with 17 points on 7/9 shooting from two, four rebounds, and three assists. Michigan has to hope that with another 10 days of recovery that Jordan Morgan will be better suited to step in and run the interior defense -- something he has shown himself to be more capable of than the other two posts.

Of Penn State's high usage/low efficiency guards, Jermaine Marshall had a better day, but not by much. He finished with 17 as well but shot 5/14 from the floor and was bailed out by 6/6 from the line. DJ Newbill was a similarly putrid 4/12 from the floor but only 2/3 from the line for 11 points. The two combined to shoot 2/8 from three, so if they have a shot from there, it probably isn't the worst thing in the world.

The other major contributor last time around was Ross Travis, a 6'6 forward who ended up notching a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds). Nick Colella was one point shy of double figures and was the most efficient player on the day, shooting 2/4 from two, making his only three point attempt, and adding four assists and six rebounds.

Michigan's keys to win

Don't do that again. What? That.

Okay, that isn't all bad. Michigan had a narrow edge in eFG% and a solid advantage in turnovers. However, the Wolverines lost the battle on the boards and absolutely needed twice as many free throw attempts (35 to 17) to sneak away with the eventual eight-point win. It was an ugly game that came on the heels of a five day rest following the four-game stretch that shall not be named. A letdown game it was.

What's that thing? We used to play all the time back in the day. Defense. Michigan didn't do much of that the first time around. What that four factors chart doesn't tell you is that Michigan actually lost the assist battle. Sixty percent of Penn State's baskets were assisted last game, which is noticeably higher (seven percent) than what Michigan allows on average.

Meanwhile, Penn State shot 48.7 percent from inside the arc, which is five percentage points higher than its season average. This is all pretty clearly a failure of Michigan's interior defense -- I know, "tell me something we don't know" you say -- and if the Wolverines are going to win this game like they should, it is going to have to come from interior defense. Jordan Morgan looks to be healthier, so we can expect more than seven minutes out of him. In fact, against Illinois, Morgan posted a plus-25, which stands in pretty stark contrast to Mitch McGary's minus-12. That was in 16 and 17 minutes, respectively.


Even with this game coming on the road, Michigan should still be able to cast off its last performance and win by something approaching what Kenpom predicts (15 points, for the record). With Jordan Morgan getting healthier every day, Michigan now has a good option to replace McGary if he struggles inside. Meanwhile, the offense didn't have any trouble last time out, scoring almost 1.2 points per possession.

With a better defensive showing that will help spark a couple of those quick eight or nine point runs we are getting so accustomed to, Michigan should win this one in a walk.

If it ends up being a two point game, forget I said anything.