clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Michigan Wolverines at Penn State Nittany Lions Preview: Zero margin

Lose this game and the season is even more over.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, the game everyone has been waiting for! The stakes could not be any higher as the world turns its eyes to a massive neutral site contest featuring the Michigan Wolverines as they take on...the Penn State Nittany Lions in a Sunday noon basketball game on BTN. Right, I suppose this is the game before the game.

While the football team is about to reach an all-time high, the basketball team is well on its way to (or is maybe already at) its lowest point in nearly two decades. The program looks likely to miss the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2006-08 and does not have a lot of reason for future optimism.

This is probably a lost year regardless, but if Michigan falls to a Penn State team ranked 118th in Kenpom then this season is absolutely dead. The Nittany Lions are the weakest team left on the schedule, and while technically Long Beach State is ranked higher, there are absolutely no excuses for dropping this one.

Michigan Wolverines (6-8, 1-2) at Penn State Nittany Lions (7-7, 1-2)

Date & Time: Sunday, Jan. 7, 12 p.m. ET
Location: The Palestra, Philadelphia, PA
TV/Streaming: BTN

When the game was announced, it looked like fun idea to see these two schools face off in a historic basketball venue like the Palestra. Instead, the (semi-neutral site) contest features two of the weakest teams in the conference is in unlikely to steal a lot of attention. While the Nittany Lions did beat Ohio State in December, they have dropped all five other games against top-100 opponents.

There are not a lot of positives for Penn State right now, as both the offense and defense sit outside the top 125 in adjusted efficiency. The Michigan defense is obviously a disaster right now, but the Nittany Lions have not looked great shooting the ball, especially from deep, where they are one of the worse in the conference. Kanye Clary is the biggest threat, and the point guard has topped 20 points eight times already this season.

Just find a way

I want to say there are not a lot of positives for Michigan right now either, but the offense is actually pretty solid. This is a top-25 unit nationally, and while there are some frustrating moments, most of them are exacerbated by the fact that the offense has to consistently try (and usually fail) to bail out the defense.

Thursday was the third time in three games that the Wolverines allowed over 1.11 PPP, which is just a tough hurdle to overcome. In the small sample of Big Ten play, Michigan has the 12th-best adjusted defense and the conference’s worst defensive rebounding rate. To win this game, the Wolverines just need to play fundamentally sound defense. It does not need to be pretty, it does not even need to be convincing, but Michigan has to find a way to win, and that is 100 percent dependent on the defense.