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Preview: 8-6 Michigan vs. 12-3 Penn State

Michigan's on the road again, looking to get on track against the 12-3 Penn State Nittany Lions tonight (7:00 ET, BTN).

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Who: 12-3 (0-2) Penn State Nittany Lions (No. 47 RPI)

When: 7:00 ET (BTN)

Where: Bryce Jordan Center -- State College, Pa.

The Stage

If Michigan is going to have any chance of scraping together enough wins to make a run at a tournament bid, they'll have to win a few games on the road. And how quickly things change, as Michigan heads to Penn State a 1.5-point underdog.

Michigan lost an opportunity to snag a road win in West Lafayette, when the offense collapsed like me the day after I decide to reintroduce squats into my workout regimen. The reality is, you can count the number of teams that Michigan "should" beat, at home or on the road, on the fingers of one hand these days, a sobering realization when juxtaposed with the heights Michigan has seen in recent years.

"Can" and "should" are different things, though. Like Purdue, this is a game Michigan can win. With that said, things don't look too great right now for a Wolverines squad that is reeling and seemingly without answers for its struggles to date.

Them

The Pat Chambers-led Nittany Lions come into this one with a 12-3 record, but they've dropped both conference games so far. After scoring 36 points in the first half at the Kohl Center, the Badgers rolled over PSU in the second en route to an 89-72 win. Somewhat disappointingly for PSU, they followed that up with a 50-46 loss at Rutgers, a 26-point drop in scoring from the previous outing. PSU shot 29 percent from the field in that one, and 5-for-27 from beyond the arc (18.5 percent), not to mention just eight assists to 12 turnovers.

In the 12-1 nonconference portion of the schedule, PSU fell in double overtime against Charlotte (now 6-7), 106-97; apparently the 49ers have something against Big Ten foes.

In terms of quality wins, a W against the RPI No. 21 George Washington Colonials stands out, a 64-51 win at home. Other than that, a Nov. 23 win against USC (RPI No. 100) is the only top 100 win in the bag thus far. USC is currently 8-6 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12.

PSU comes in No. 47 in RPI (Michigan is No. 127).

Personnel

He should be a familiar name by now, but the senior from Philadelphia, guard DJ Newbill, is the engine that makes this offense go. Averaging 21.4 points per game and 4.6 points per game, he's scored in the double digits in all 15 of PSU's contests, including a season-high 35 points against Charlotte, 29 against Toledo and Wisconsin, and 28 in an eight-point win at Bucknell. As Ohio State saw with Newbill's game-winner in Columbus last season, he's not afraid to take the big shot, either.

Newbill shoots 46 percent from the field (38.5 percent from three); both marks are career-highs. For what it's worth, his three-ball has taken a serious leap, as he shot just 32.6 percent from there last season. He's a pure scorer in every sense of the word. If he scores 25+, it's hard to envision Michigan having the scoring punch to counteract that.

As they say, if you're gonna play in Texas Pennsylvania, you gotta have a fiddle in the band. Junior forward Brandon Taylor is that fiddle, averaging 10.0 ppg and 6.3 rpg. He's not a great shooter, at just 36.8 percent from the field (29.4 percent from three on a team-high 85 attempts), and has struggled in Big Ten play so far. In two games against Wisconsin and Rutgers, the 6-foot-6 Taylor was just 4-for-18 from the field. He did come up big in the aforementioned quality win against George Washington, with 17 points and eight boards.

Freshman guard Shep Gardner pitches in 9.7 ppg and and a 36 percent mark three on a second-most 72 attempts. Fellow underclassman guard Geno Thorpe adds 8.6 ppg, but isn't much of an outside shooter (26 percent on 23 attempts).

The junior from Brooklyn, 7-foot center Jordan Dickerson, gives the Nittany Lions some serious size on the inside. He blocks 1.3 shots per game and is a 48 percent shooter; but, if he gets near the basket, a foul is a good idea, as he shoots just 47 percent from the charity stripe.

Junior forward Donovan Jack and senior forward Ross Travis give them some punch off the bench, with Travis reeling in a team-high 7.1 rpg. Another notable reserve is senior G John Johnson (6.8 ppg). He's not an exceptional three-point threat either, at just 33 percent. His season-high in points (17) came in a one-point win against Cornell Nov. 21 and a four-point win at Marshall Dec. 6.

Game Keys

  • Stop Newbill. Not surprisingly, Newbill scored 29 against Wisconsin and the Nittany Lions were somewhat in the game for at least a half; then, in a loss against Rutgers when they scored just 46, Newbill scored 14 on 4-for-17 shooting. If Michigan can somehow channel whatever Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan did to contain Newbill, the Wolverines will have a chance to grind out an ugly win.
  • Pack it in. PSU comes in ranked 11th in the league in three-point percentage. If there ever was a game to sit back in a zone, it's this one. That's not to say that a zone is the Brawndo Michigan craves, or that it can be anything more than a change-up to the regular man-to-man defense, but there's no need to give Newbill et al a chance to penetrate. Newbill can shoot it from outside, but there isn't really anyone else who can hurt Michigan in that way.
  • Battle of the boards. There aren't many times when Michigan maybe, just maybe, might not be completely overmatched on the boards. However, PSU comes in ranked 7th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and 12th in defensive rebounding percentage. Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal have shown flashes here and there; this is a game in which Michigan needs both of them to help out the backcourt by pitching in some tough buckets.

The Outlook

As I've written before, there's no real reason to approach games by looking at reasons why this team should win. I don't even consider this "pessimism," so much as it is just the state of things. Given the offense's production to date -- or lack thereof -- every game is going to be a grind, and the margin for error is slimmer than freshman Caris LeVert.

It's difficult to imagine Michigan pulling off a win on the road against anybody in this conference right now. Regardless, they'll have to prove defy that imagination, or Michigan's tournament hopes could cease to exist before we even get to National Nothing Day.

Unfortunately, until they provide reason to believe otherwise, this one probably falls in the loss column. Michigan 55, Penn State 62.