There’s no sugarcoating it — the Michigan Wolverines need to win Big Ten games on the road to make the NCAA Tournament, and they got their asses kicked at Penn State on Sunday, 83-61.
With the loss, the Wolverines fall to 11-10 on the year and 5-5 in the conference. January is almost over, and Michigan is firmly on the outside looking in when it comes to March Madness.
It’s hard to make a case for the Wolverines right now; as of Sunday afternoon, they’re 75th in the NET rankings and currently have more Quad 4 losses (the brutal home loss to Central Michigan) than Quad 1 wins (0).
There’s not much more room for error. Michigan has 10 more regular season games, all in conference, and it has to win at least seven or eight of them to avoid the NIT.
Here are some takeaways form the blowout loss.
A brutal run to close the first half boiled over into the second half
The Nittany Lions move the ball really well and were just a half-step ahead of the Wolverines, getting a lot of open shots and making them.
In that first half, they made nine of their 17 attempts from three, including five in a row in an 18-2 run to close out the half. It quickly turned a one-point game into a 17-point game.
This all happened with Jalen Pickett (Penn State’s best player who we’ll talk about later) on the bench. Michigan had to capitalize with him on the bench, and did the exact opposite.
Can’t go -18 over 4 min 40 seconds on the road— ᗩᑎT ᗯᖇIGᕼT (@itsAntWright) January 29, 2023
To put it politely, closing out the half at the receiving end of a big run is...not ideal. What made it even worse is the run continued going into the second half, with a 29-4 Penn State run being the difference and Michigan not showing much fight.
Michigan played well up until that point while the Nittany Lions simply shot the lights out, and that’s the difference a lot of the time in college basketball.
It’s nice to have Jett back
Not having Jett Howard might have been the difference in Michigan’s home loss to Purdue, and he made his presence felt in this one.
He had 21 points, including 18 points in the first, making his first seven shots. He was absolutely on fire, making threes, knocking down long twos, and — I’d have to imagine — grabbing the attention of NBA draft scouts.
Howard is projected to get picked in the lottery of the upcoming draft and if he does declare, Michigan will miss him — and shooting performances like this — dearly.
Michigan had no answer for Jalen Pickett
Pickett is one of the best players in the Big Ten. Much like in his first matchup with Michigan, the Wolverines had no answers for the senior point guard.
He had 25 points in this one, including 17 points in the first half. As cool as Howard’s 18-point half was, it almost felt like it didn’t matter because Pickett would just score every time Michigan tried to grab momentum.
Jalen Pickett has hit his first 5 shots today. @JalenPickett7 x @PennStateMBB pic.twitter.com/LQJDoQwhwa— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 29, 2023
It was a piss-poor defensive performance from Michigan, and not being able to stop the guy who had to be the focal point of the game-plan is beyond frustrating.
Not the best game for Hunter Dickinson
Michigan’s star center didn’t make much of an impact in this one, scoring six points and grabbing two boards.
I feel for him to a certain extent; every team in the conference has been doubling him, with Penn State waiting for him to take a dribble before sending another man at him. It’s really hard to contribute in that situation, and he did a good job moving the ball and passing out of those doubles (three assists).
At the same time, he seemed to rush things in the first half and tried to force up some shots to get himself going. He ultimately did get a few points in the post, but he was far from his usual dominant self and didn’t make much of an impact defensively.
Michigan thrives off the energy Dickinson brings, and the Wolverines need him to get things back on track if they want to finish over .500 in the Big Ten.
So like...what happened to Will Tschetter?
I’m usually not one to criticize personnel decisions, but I don’t understand why Will Tschetter didn’t get any playing time until late in this one.
Tschetter has been one of the bright spots in this bleak Michigan season; he doesn’t light up the box score, but he knows his role — a smart player and a solid defender who’s getting better as the year goes on. He actually was on the floor in the final few minutes of a close game in the Minnesota win last week, partially because of how well he was playing.
I get that Penn State is a smaller team, but what’s the point of not giving him a few minutes when the game was still close? Is he hurt? Did something happen between the Purdue game (a game where he played well in 17 minutes off the bench) and now?
Unless there’s something we don’t know about, it doesn’t make any sense for a young guy that’s been a spark plug all season long to get no meaningful minutes. That’s just baffling.
As bad of a loss as this is. Michigan does have a chance to pick up two more Quad 1 wins this week. The Wolverines have a rematch with Northwestern (Feb. 2, 7 p.m. tip-off on ESPN2) before heading home to face Ohio State a few days later (Feb. 5, 1 p.m. tip-off on CBS).