Who: Michigan (13-12, 6-7) vs. Penn State (9-16, 1-12)
Michigan is looking for their first three game winning streak since beginning the season 3-0. They welcome last place Penn State into the friendly confines of Crisler Arena. Penn State is fresh off their first Big Ten win, an 81-70 upset at Northwestern.
As crazy as it seems, Penn State might be the best 1-12 Big Ten team in quite some time. Penn State ranks 103rd in Pomeroy’s ratings, ahead of fellow cellar dwellers Iowa and Indiana. Last year was a magical season for the Nittany Lions, they pulled upset after upset before coming up one game short of the NCAA tournament. This year’s Penn State team has fallen on the other side of the luck spectrum, Talor Battle’s magic hasn’t been quite as effective and they haven’t been able to win many close games. Sound familiar? Just a little bit.
Talor Battle is the catalyst for Penn State. He is one of the elite players in the conference and he can do it all: score, pass, and rebound. His supporting cast has struggled this year, but in their Wednesday night win at Northwestern they finally stepped up. Battle scored only 12.5% of Penn State’s points compared to his season total of 29.4%.
David Jackson, Chris Babb, and Jeff Brooks all range from 6’5″-6’8″ and average 7 to 10 points and 4 rebounds per game. They combined for 52 points in Penn State’s lone conference win but that was the first time they all scored in double figures during Big Ten play.
In the post, Penn State has a pair of Andrews. Andrew Jones III appears to ooze with potential but he’s averaging only 6 points and 5 rebounds per contest. 6’10″ Andrew Ott comes off the bench, averaging 4 points and 2 boards. The Nittany Lions main contributor off the bench is freshman backup point guard Tim Frazier.
Offensively, Penn State holds onto the ball and shoots it decently from the field. However for the most part their offense revolves around watching Talor Battle work. Penn State does have a few competent three point shooters and they shoot 33.6% from behind the arc as a team. Talor Battle’s prowess from beyond the arc is well known (35.5%) but David Jackson (38.3%) and Chris Babb (34.7%) can also hit the three.
Defensively, Penn State struggles to force turnovers and defend the three. Their opponents turn the ball over on less than 15% of their possessions in conference play. Michigan actually has the highest turnover percent versus Penn State of any Big Ten team, however most of that is because they turned the ball over 9 times in the first half (which was easily one of their worst halves of the year). In conference play, Penn State’s opponents are shooting 38% from three point range and a conference worst 54.2% effective field goal percentage. The one thing Penn State does extremely well on the defensive side of the ball is rebound, their defensive rebounding percentage of 74.8% is second in the nation.
Three point shooting is worlds more important than offensive rebounding for Michigan. I’d much rather play a great defensive rebounding team that lets opponents hit three point shots than vice versa. If Michigan holds onto the ball and hits threes, they will be in a good position to beat most teams regardless of offensive rebounding. Michigan is obviously used to winning without pulling down many offensive rebounds or shooting free throws.
Judging by Penn State’s performance versus Northwestern. Michigan should stay away from the 1-3-1 zone and stick to strictly man-to-man defense. Penn State picked Northwestern’ s 1-3-1 zone apart and the Wildcats run a much more effective 1-3-1 than Michigan. Luckily Michigan has been playing man-to-man 95% of the time and it appears to be gradually improving.
Penn State’s lackluster shooting defense bodes well for Michigan, so maybe the hot three point shooting continues?. DeShawn Sims dominated the first match-up, scoring 25 points on 12 of 17 shooting. Big performances from Sims have been the norm this year in confernece play, he has scored 17+ points in 11 of 13 Big Ten games. Neither Andrew Jones or Andrew Ott are capable of defending DeShawn when he is on his game so Michigan would be well served to pound the ball inside early and often.
Pomeroy gives Michigan a 79% chance at victory with a score prediction of 65-58. This is one of those “taking care of business” wins that Michigan needs to get if they are serious about finishing the season on a high note and shooting for a .500 conference record. Let’s hear your thoughts and predictions in the comments.
P.S.: Michigan at Michigan State is slated for Sunday, March 7 at 4 p.m. on CBS.
P.P.S.: Calvin is planning on making the trip out to see Carlton Brundidge and Southfield take on Clarkston tonight. We should hopefully have a scouting report and video for you later this weekend.