Who: Michigan (7-6) at Penn State (8-6)
Michigan’s game at Penn State last year was as close as that team came to hitting rock bottom. The blowout loss capped a three game losing streak in the midst of a terrible January stretch that saw Michigan start the Big Ten season 4-6. Michigan allowed Penn State to shoot an effective field goal percentage of 67% in what could only be described as a pathetic performance. To put that number in perspective, the worst eFG% that Michigan’s suspect defense has allowed an opponent to shoot this year is 58%.
The good news for Michigan is that Penn State is in rebuilding mode. Jamelle Cornley, Stanley Pringle, and Danny Morrissey have moved on and their replacements aren’t nearly as good. David Jackson, Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones III, and Chris Babb round out the starting lineup around junior star Talor Battle.
Andrew Jones III is the Lions main option in the post. The 6’10” junior averages 6.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while making two pointers at 52.7% clip.
Surrounding Jones are a number of players who have developed from 3 to 4 points per game scorers to 7 or 8 points per game scorers in increased roles in Brooks, Jackson, and Babb. Ranging from 6’5 to 6’8, no one from this trio is particularly aggressive on offense (usage rates under 20%) but they are capable options on any given night.
Regardless of his surrounding cast, the key to stopping Penn State is stopping Talor Battle, who is averaging 21.5 points and 6 assists in Michigan’s last two games at the Bryce Jordan Center. Battle is one of only 4 players in the conference to use over 28% of his teams possessions (along Harris, Turner, and Hughes) and he has the ability to take over a game single handily. The question for Michigan is who draws the assignment of guarding Battle. I would expect Michigan to start with Stu Douglass as the most experienced and disciplined defensive guard in Michigan’s backcourt.
Penn State’s offense is solid but unspectacular. They do a good job of holding onto the ball (17.7% TO%, 39th) but are otherwise average. Their shooting (49.7% eFG), rebounding (32.5% OR%), and free throw numbers (FTA/FGA 35.8%) numbers are nothing to write home about.
On the defensive side of the ball, Penn State struggles to force turnovers (17.7% TO%), but is great at crashing the defensive glass (74.3% DR%) and keeping opponents off the free throw line (FTA/FGA = 25.1%). The best news for Michigan is that Penn State’s opponents not only tend to take a lot of three point shots, they make them at a 36.3% clip.
The key for Michigan, as in any game, is make your threes and get the ball to Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims early and often. Andrew Jones is a solid player but he is not the type of interior defender that should be able to stop DeShawn Sims on the block. Last year, Harris had one of his worst games of his career at Penn State and rebounded with a near triple double the second time around. It would be nice to see him put together a solid performance on the road.