The season is not completely lost for the Michigan Wolverines, but a team can only endure so many missed opportunities and still build a strong enough resume for the Tournament. All of the top-shelf chances have come and gone, but Michigan could still build a case based off of the quantity of next-tier wins.
What that translates to is picking up as many Big Ten road victories as possible, which has proven to be a tough task. A December win at last place Minnesota is not going to count for much, and three-straight road defeats since then look like a big weakness for this close-but-not-enough season.
Michigan will get another chance to turn that around this week with Quad 1 games against the Penn State Nittany Lions and Northwestern Wildcats on the road. Both teams are good but not great — and the Wolverines have already beaten both — setting up two winnable games that would go a long way in keeping hopes alive.
Michigan Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) at Penn State Nittany Lions (13-7, 10-1)
Date & Time: Sunday, Jan. 29, 12 p.m.
Location: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, PA
Big Ten Standings: UM 7th, PSU t-9th
Take the openings
The win over Penn State at the start of the month was Michigan’s best offensive effort in 2023, and the recipe for success is certainly repeatable. The Nittany Lions have been below-average defensively in Big Ten play and opponents have had little issue finding and hitting their shots against them.
In that game, both Dug McDaniel (four assists) and Kobe Bufkin (five) kept the ball moving and found their teammates in position to score. With or without Jett Howard, that must be the case again. Between Joey Baker, Will Tschetter, and Terrance Williams, there are going to be some open looks, and even decent shooting from three would be helpful.
For the rest of the year, though, the offense must continue to revolve around Hunter Dickinson. It was a good effort for the big man against Zach Edey and Purdue, making it three consecutive outings with at least 19 points. Penn State does not have the bodies to significantly slow him down, and Dickinson needs to put up 20-plus on Sunday.
Find the winning formula
Penn State owns one of the most interesting looking offensive profiles, though it results in a borderline top-30 offense in the country so perhaps nitpicking is unfair. Still, given the first matchup in Ann Arbor and some clear tendencies, there is a reasonable approach to take on the defensive end.
The two areas that the Nittany Lions really stand out in are shooting, especially from three, and turnovers. Michigan, of course, does not live off steals, but the defense did do a good job not surrendering many threes despite Penn State launching 28 attempts during the first game. Three starters do hit over 40 percent of there attempts, so the Wolverines must against defend the perimeter well.
The one thing to really focus on would be limiting possessions. Defensive rebounding will continue being a talking point until Michigan proves it can consistently prevent second-chance looks, and Penn State is near the bottom in offensive rebounds. The Nittany Lions play fairly slowly and do not look to run the floor a ton, so there is no reason the Wolverines cannot hang on this end.