Michigan and Penn State opened the game trading offensive blows and appeared to be headed for a barnburner. The Nittany Lion offense eventually cooled down while Michigan kept its sizzling momentum. The Wolverines opened up a 19 point lead in both halves and appeared to have the game in hand. The half empty Bryce Jordan Center was silent and Michigan’s thoughts undoubtedly drifted toward the Big Ten Tournament and beyond. In a blink, the Nittany Lions rattled off a 13-0 run and made the Wolverines work for their win. Michigan managed to regroup down the stretch and bookended its regular season with a six point win. The victory marked the end of Michigan’s most successful Big Ten campaign since 1993 and a final regular season record of 23-8 (13-5 Big Ten).
Michigan beat plenty of teams this season with Evan Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway Jr. struggling offensively. When those two score the ball efficiently, Michigan goes from a good offensive team to an almost unstoppable offensive team. The effect of that firepower was on full display today. The Wolverines turned the ball over more than they have in any Big Ten game (23.7% turnover rate) but still scored more points per possession than in any other league game. Michigan reached 1.2 points per trip thanks to torrid shooting, both inside and out. The Wolverines made 15-of-24 twos and 10-of-18 threes for a season best 71.4% effective field goal percentage. Looking down the stat sheet, there weren’t many bad, or even below average shooting performances. Hardaway, Burke, Douglass, Novak, and Smotrycz all had effective field goal percentages well over 50% and Vogrich and Morgan were the only two to struggle.
The Wolverine defense was solid and it’s game plan to defend jet quick guard Tim Frazier was more than effective, holding the junior to 11 points on 16 shots with three turnovers, but the Wolverines struggled to finish defensive possessions with clean rebounds. Penn State rebounded 44.1% of its missed shots and tallied 15 second chance points. Michigan’s rebounding has regressed a bit down the stretch and that’s something that could catch up to the Wolverines either in Indianapolis or in the NCAA tournament if they draw a scrappy and athletic team in the early rounds.
Michigan is surging at the right time. The schedule has undeniably eased up but the Wolverines have won six of their last seven games to close the regular season and are playing their best basketball of the year. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Evan Smotrycz appear to be regaining confidence and Michigan’s freshman floor general never lost it. Headed to the Big Ten Tournament with a No. 2 seed, Michigan players and coaches harped on the fact that the Wolverines are playing for championships from here on out.
- Trey Burke: Two or three months ago, this would have been a jaw dropping performance from Burke: 19 points on 6-of-10 (2-3 3pt) shooting with some huge baskets, including a four point play, down the stretch. At this point in the season, Burke has been so good in late game situations that you almost expect a game like this. Going forward teams will continue to throw the hard hedge and trap against him in the pick-and-roll because when you sit back he’s so effective shooting the ball from 16-feet out. Burke still struggles to split the double teams at time and had two turnovers to just one assist.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway hit three early triples and was oozing with confidence but didn’t score the ball much throughout the middle 20 minutes of the game. His loose handle caught up with him and he did have five turnovers against Penn State’s pressure. I still think we’re seeing mental improvement from Hardaway, he was engaged in the game even on the bench – jumping up and down when Vogrich picked up a block – and had the mental fortitude to hit a huge jumper late in the game to help ice it away.
- Evan Smotrycz: When Smotrycz is playing with confidence offensively he can influence the game in so many different ways. Today he scored off the bounce, hit open threes, used the pump fake to create and even passed the ball well. His size and skillset allow him to get shots almost at will and if he can make the most of them Michigan will be a tough out in March. Smotrycz even took a charge and seemed to do a better job of moving his feet to avoid fouls while hedging on the perimeter (although he did pick up one in that situation).
- Zack Novak: Novak has seemed a bit out of sorts lately but he made some big offensive plays in this one while battling foul trouble: he hit a desperation shot late in the shot clock (a skill he’s developed this season) and hit another tough running jumper late in the second half. He knocked down his only three point attempt and finished with 11 points, four rebounds, two steals and a turnover.
- Stu Douglass: With so much focus on Michigan’s young stars and fiery captain, sometimes Douglass’ improvement is overlooked. His stat line today: nine points on 4-of-5 (1-2 3pt) shooting with six assists to one turnover. He’s done a great job of learning to use his strength to finish around the basket and had a multitude of creative step back finishes today. Douglass has made 53.2% of his twos and 38.7% of his threes in Big Ten games this season compared to 43.5% on twos and 36.4% on threes a season ago.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan never really found a rhythm, picking up an early foul on the first defensive possession, but he did grab five defensive boards in 20 minutes. He missed an early five foot jumper but made up for it with a little baby hook later in the second half, a shot he hasn’t made often throughout his career.
- Matt Vogrich: Vogrich had a blocked shot, a steal, an assist and a pair of rebounds in 14 minutes.