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(5) Michigan vs. (12) Penn State: Rubbermatch

Michigan takes on Penn State in an effort to A) avenge its worst loss of the season B) not lose to PSU twice as many times as Northwestern has this year and C) give me a heart attack, probably.

It was either this or a picture of a puppy getting kicked.  This is more painful.
It was either this or a picture of a puppy getting kicked. This is more painful.

Since last we met

These teams have never played before. What's a Penn State?

But seriously, Michigan used its three games after the Penn State loss a few weeks back to almost look like the exact opposite of a team that would lose to Penn State. The Wolverines beat MSU at home in an instant classic, gunned it past Purdue on the road, and came within a couple made free throws and a slight cross breeze in Crisler from upsetting Indiana and capturing a piece of the conference title.

Penn State won another game! Almost two. The Nittany Lions got bludgeoned to death by Minnesota, beat Northwestern (poor Northwestern), and almost pulled off an upset at home against Wisconsin. Compared to the rest of Penn State's season, this is like a 15 game winning streak.

The team

You know them already. You hate them too. Nobody hates Penn State basketball, that's what makes this hurt so bad.

- Jermaine Marshall has went off so far against Michigan. In the first two games he has 42 points combined.

- DJ Newbill has 11 and 17 points respectively in the last two.

- Sasa Borovnjak has 26 points, nine rebounds, and four assists in those games.

- Ross Travis has 22 rebounds combined and was 7/9 from the line in the last game.

- Nick Colella is also there, and ready to shoot from three. He is 3/6 combined with nine points in each game.

For some damn reason, Michigan can't figure out how to play defense against the Nittany Lions. This is the worst offense in the conference -- one that scores .91 ppp with an eFG% of 42.6. Don't ask me, man. I just don't know.

Michigan's keys to win

Play defense. Some of it. Any of it. The Nittany Lions scored over 70 points four times in conference play. Two of those games have come at Michigan's expense. The Wolverines have been utterly powerless to stop Penn State's otherwise hapless offense. The Nits had an eFG% of 60.2 percent against Michigan in the win. That's ridiculous; the team average is almost 18 percentage points lower than that. PSU also posted OR% better than 30 percent in both games, and only turned the ball over on 13 percent of possessions in the win over Michigan.

Something's got to give, man. Michigan played a great defensive game against Michigan State, forcing turnovers on almost 30 percent of MSU possessions. Against Indiana that number was still 22 percent. Those teams shot 36 and 43 percent eFG% in those games. Games that came between the loss to Penn State and this one.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. There are no "keys" to victory. There is just one. Michigan finally needs to put together something of a defensive game against Penn State. In the two games against Penn State, Michigan's offense has produced 1.2 and 1.15 ppp (although the offense clammed up against the Nits in the last game), not far off of Michigan's season average for offensive production.

This one is about defense. Michigan has to play some, or there are going to be a lot of unhappy people out there Thursday night.


Pain. Seriously.

If these teams had just met once, or Michigan had only that loss coupled with a comfortable win, I'd be able to write this whole thing off as an outlier, something that doesn't really correlate to everything else we know about this basketball team. But that isn't the case. This is a trend. Michigan's defense has struggled too much against Penn State, and that ain't good, folks. Past that, Michigan's defense has been an issue in enough other games that even without the last two Penn State debacles we'd consider it a capital-P Problem.

Kenpom has this one a 16 point Michigan win. The past two Kenpom lines? Twenty-five and fifteen, both in favor of the good guys. I love Kenpom, but this game seems to exist somewhere far outside stats, and more in the realm of the Twilight Zone.

Michigan wins by one, if it wins at all. One single, solitary point.

Defense. Go Blue. That is all.