Game 26: Penn State at Michigan Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 79, Penn St. 71-9Michigan 79, Penn St. 71-18Michigan 79, Penn St. 71-10Michigan 79, Penn St. 71-21
Dustin Johnston

MICH 79 1.19 23-49 47% 17-31 55% 6-18 33% 27-35 77% 7 22 12 6 4 2 15
PSU 71 1.07 25-57 44% 19-39 49% 6-18 33% 15-17 88% 10 25 15 13 2 1 25

There are no bad wins in the Big Ten but Michigan continued to look like a team searching for its former self while limping past Penn State on Sunday afternoon. The Wolverines’ early season confidence and swagger is gone and a struggling defense becomes a more pressing concern with every passing game.

Michigan is two games out of first place and still has the opportunity to host both teams that it’s chasing in the standings. The Wolverines have been nearly flawless at home over the past two seasons and are capable of winning out – if they can find their early season form.

But despite all of the opportunity ahead, it’s hard not to ask the obvious question: Does Michigan still have that extra gear that was apparent throughout the first two thirds of the season or has it been sapped away by a grueling two week stretch? That confidence isn’t going to return overnight but a rematch against Michigan State awaits in two weeks’ time. A meager eight point win against the league’s worst team isn’t going to accelerate the recovery process but it’s a step, ever so small, in the right direction.


Michigan’s offensive efficiency improved exponentially over the course of 40 minutes but its defense followed an inverse trajectory. After both teams managed roughly a point per possession in a first half that felt like it was dominated by Penn State, Michigan’s offense exploded for 1.38 points per trip in the second half. But the Wolverine defense sputtered and allowed Penn State, the least productive offense in the Big Ten, to score 1.14 points per trip in the second 20 minutes.

Michigan’s offense has struggled at times over the last couple weeks but offensive regression is likely to reduce the Wolverines from the best offense in the country to one of the top five offenses in the country. It’s Michigan’s defensive struggles over the last five games are the more serious, mission critical concern.

The Wolverines have now surrendered 363 points in their last 332 defensive possessions over a five game  stretch included games against the conference’s 1st, 3rd, 5th, 9th and 12th best offenses. When extrapolated to the entire Big Ten season, that 1.09 points per possession allowed would rank second to the last in the conference – just a hair better of Northwestern.

Michigan’s defensive woes continued to originate around the basket, as the league’s worst two point defense failed to improve even against the worst two point offense in the conference. Penn State made 49 percent of its twos on the day and seemed to have endless opportunities around the basket. The Wolverines’ aggressive overplayed, high hedge on the pick-and-roll did generate a few turnovers, which led to 10 points, but it also led to a number of wide open layups at the hoop. Sasa Borovnjak was particularly effective slipping to the hoop, scoring 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Although neither DJ Newbill or Jermaine Marshall had particularly efficient offensive performances, Michigan struggled to stop either player’s dribble penetration.

The offense was flat from the opening tip off but rounded into form steadily.  Penn State is far from the best the Big Ten has to offer defensively, but Michigan’s 1.17 points per trip was the second best offensive output the Nittany Lions have allowed in Big Ten play. Michigan shot 35 free throws to 49 field goals, a higher proportion of FTAs to FGAs than we’ve seen Michigan accumulate since February of 2011. The 35 free throw were more than the 26 that Michigan attempted in the last four games combined but it’s probably safe to say that has more to do with a Penn State team that fouls more than anyone in the country than a new found ability of the Wolverines to get to the charity stripe.

Despite its efficiency, Michigan’s offensive production was strikingly unbalanced. Burke, Robinson and Stauskas combined for 86% of Michigan’s scoring and nine of 12 assists. The trio combined to go 20-of-31 from the floor (73% effective field goal percentage) and 23-of-26 at the free throw line while their teammates went just 3-of-18 from the floor and 4-of-9 at the line. Michigan’s inside players – Morgan, McGary, Bielfeldt and Horford – didn’t score combined for 0-of-5 shooting with three turnovers to six rebounds at the five position while Tim Hardaway Jr. was unable to snap out of his off week. Unbalanced offense might not be ideal but it’s tough to complain Michigan’s most efficient players – Burke, Robinson and Stauskas – have the most opportunities and make the most of them.

Michigan has a week of rest before hosting Illinois next Sunday. The Wolverines plan to take the day off on Monday and Thursday with a “mini-camp” sandwiched between. The week off should provide a valuable opportunity for both rest and defensive repetitions before Michigan hosts an Illinois team trending in the right direction down the stretch.

Michigan 79, Penn St. 71-22
Dustin Johnston

Player Bullets:

  • Trey Burke: Burke seems to redefine flawless offense every time he takes the floor. 29 points on 9-of-16 (3-4 3pt) shooting with five assists and zero turnovers is pretty close to perfect. Burke scored at the hoop, hit his threes, got to the free throw line, and hit challenged pull-ups in the mid-range. There wasn’t really anything else you could ask for from the sophomore point guard offensively. However, even Burke has suffered at times on the defensive end of the floor. Despite a pair of steals, Burke had a couple mental lapses which cost easy buckets on the defensive end.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: Over the last four games Hardaway has gone from playing nearly perfect basketball against Ohio State and Wisconsin to dreadful basketball against Michigan State and Penn State. In many ways Hardaway’s career has been defined by radical up and down swings and the Wolverines will need him to snap out of his funk to make a run both at the Big Ten title or in March.
  • Nik Stauskas: Stauskas had a sound offensive game, scoring 18 points on 5-of-9 (2-6 3pt) shooting with four assists to two turnovers, despite a subpar three point shooting game. He was aggressive attacking the basket and was very successful – 6 FTA and perfect 3-of-3 2 point shooting. His defense remains a concern. Penn State attempted to isolate him quite a bit and had a fair amount of success. Stauskas didn’t commit a foul and commits less than 1 foul per 40 minutes – top five nationally. Beilein’s commented that “If you only had one foul in that game, you had more in you” in his post game and that rings true for Stauskas defensively.
  • Glenn Robinson III: A 21 point and 10 rebound double double with perfect shooting from the field is a good way to get out of a slump. Yes, five of Robinson’s six makes were dunks but it was great to see Robinson more aggressive on the boards and getting to the free throw line. His 11 free throw attempts on the game matched his total in the last nine games combined. Robinson isn’t going to magically begin to create his own offense over the final month of the season but if he plays with this sort of energy, especially on the glass, he’ll find his way to production.
  • Mitch McGary: McGary’s hustle, effort and vision continues to be a game changer but it’s also rough around the edges. McGary struggled to finish (0-4) but made three great plays which led to baskets or free throws with his passing. However throwing possessions away (2 turnovers, one mid-range airball) begin to offset that positive play. Still, McGary’s energy was pivotal in Michigan tying the game in the first half, he threw a great backdoor pass, a no look pass and dove on the floor to start a fast break.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan played just seven minutes and looked far from healthy, committing three fouls and a turnover and missing a layup in his time on the floor. Morgan wants to play, Michigan needs him to play, but it doesn’t do any good if he’s not close to 100 percent.
  • Jon Horford: Horford needs stronger hands around the basket as he had a couple of rebounds stripped out his hands. On one occasion he recovered with an emphatic block that started a fast break. He did have two steals and a block in 16 minutes but picked up two fouls and failed to record a field goal attempt.
  • Matt Vogrich: Vogrich checked in and let up a pair of three pointers almost immediately but it was nice to see him get fouled and knock down both free throws.
  • Caris LeVert: LeVert played nine minutes and was instrumental in forcing an early shot clock violation with strong man defense. However, he missed both field goal attempts and tweaked his ankle, limiting his second half playing time.
  • UMQuasi

    Great work as usual Dylan. However, I do have one point of disagreement. While the defensive concerns continue to increase, I don’t think the team was lacking any confidence or swagger today. It was the first time in a while that they looked like they were having fun, throwing alley-oops, laughing on the bench, etc.

    It was great to see GR3 and Stauskas have big games too. Was this the dominant performance we were all hoping for? Of course not. However, two of the biggest things that were missing in recent games (Confidence and GR3) seemed to return.

    It’s also hard to fault the team for not getting up for a noon Sunday game against Penn State, particularly after the intensity of the last four games. We all want the team to bring high energy and effort every game, but as a coach myself, I know that sometimes that’s easier said than done.

    • Maybe they found some swagger in the second half but never leading PSU by double digits? Everything looked laborious in the first half and they never found a groove in the second half.

      • OhioMike

        Part of not finding a groove in the 2nd half is not getting stops. A drill I do with my varsity team is stop-score-stop. The largest run for UM in the 2nd half was a 6-0 to start. That run was followed by an “and-one” and wide open 3 for PSU.
        Tough to have swagger when you’re grabbing the ball out of the net.

        • Definitely agree, especially because of how lethal Michigan has been in transition and secondary transition offense off of misses and turnovers.

  • gpsimms

    whelp, i’ll just be over here pushing the PANIC button. I’m just hoping a 100% Morgan would instantly return our defense to above average. If it does, we’re right back in business.

    If it doesn’t (or Morgan doesn’t get back 100%), it could be a rough month.

  • ChathaM

    I thought that the halftime adjustment to the ballscreen defence was the biggest factor in the win. In the first half, PSU players were often allowed to turn the corner on the ballscreen and get into the key; usually, all the way to the basket. In the second half, the UM defender on the screener really jammed the ballhandler by hedging very hard and high. That took away all of the early in the shot clock layups that occurred in the first half.

    I don’t think Vogrich can be blamed for either of the 3’s that his man hit. One of them was caused by McGary gambling (and losing) on a steal attempt at the top of the key. That caused a complete breakdown of the defence, and Vogrich had to slide off of his man to help in the middle. On the other 3, McGary took himself out of the play at the other end of the court after a rebound (IIRC) and was nowhere near the other 9 players at the PSU offensive end. The defence had broken down before the ball had even crossed halfcourt on that play.

    It was great to see an active Robinson. Of all the great things he did today, my favourite was the defensive rebound he got, after giving the PSU player a little shove. He was whistled for the foul on the play (pretty weak call, IMO), but I don’t care. That level of engagement is what he needs to get his game back together.

    I loved the unis.

  • Wayman Britt

    Always nice to get a “W”, but this team has a long way to go. Defense is just flat bad.

    I am really disappointed in Horford. With Morgan slowed or out, this was his time to contribute. Coaches in the beginning of the year said he deserved more playing time, not now. If Horford ever wants to show he is a Big Ten caliber player, it was when Morgan is limited. So far have not seen it, not sure if we ever will.

    • gobluemd16

      Totally agree here. Was hoping Horford would step up while Morgan was out, but it hasn’t happened at all. The defense is really bad, any ball screen completely opened up the offense for Penn State today. This has happened over recent games as well, and watching Stauskas especially, he is just way behind the rest of the team (and freshman) on the defensive end.

  • OhioMike

    Dylan, as always, great work. Earlier in the year, Tim had a lot of def. rebs when he would start the break himself. He had one today (unfortunately missed the lay-up) that I recall. Have his defensive rebounding numbers gone down? He and Jordan used to be the ones to carve out space. Every rebound now seems like a jump ball, which leads to a lot of deflections and not getting clean rebounds. Imagine what UM’s efficiency numbers on offense would be if they were able to get out in transition more.

    One other point…Michigan does run an aggressive hedge on the ball screen, but it’s not hard. I’d like to see Michigan’s bigs be more active with their hands and make that a more difficult pass coming out of the double. McGary, for one, always has his hands down (on close-outs too). Also, they could try a hard rotation instead of playing contain and turning it into a 4-on-3.

    • Yeah, hard might be the wrong word. It’s aggressive and overplayed but containing. Going to edit slightly.

  • CDeSana

    As much as I love what Trey Burke brings to the table I have to admit I have major concerns with amount of shots he has taken since the game against Illinois. The games that he takes more shots have been games with fewer assist; which in turn has often been the games that Michigan has struggled. He would be wise to take a page out of Jordan’s book where he got everyone else involved early and took over late if needed.

    I still think they need to run more plays with Timmy and Nik at the point and Trey playing the 2.

    On the positive side it appears that both Nik and GRIII are spending less time sitting in the corners waiting for the kick out for the open 3 ball (at least today that was the case). They are running the baseline looking for back door cuts, foul line curls and getting to the rim. Only if our bigs could finish in the paint when both Nik and GRIII dump it down coming off the curl.

    As for the defense………… it needs to get better and fast or they are going no where in the tourney.

    • Assist numbers are tough in a game like this where Michigan a) shoots so many free throws b) misses so many shots. McGary for example should have had a couple assists but I think both plays led to FTAs rather than a made FG.

      • A2JD

        Agreed. The rest of the guys started out 1 for 10. Trey would’ve had a couple of more assists if they hadn’t been so off. The passes were there. The shots weren’t.

    • Champswest

      I don’t think Burke shot too much. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have had any offense in the first half. If I was defending UM, I would try to lock down Nik and Tim and block Glen from getting to the rim. That would be easier than trying to stop Burke, and unless Trey goes for 50, you can beat UM that way.

  • CDeSana

    And loved the unis as well

    • A2JD

      I’d still like see names on the back and maybe not as much man-cleavage but they are still a big improvement over their normal ones.

    • Erob

      I really liked them too.

    • greed, they were a sharp look, I think they need to incorporate some of the features into their normal home whites

  • michigan Fan

    Defensive is not very good. Has anyone noticed that when they have the ball and set a pick, both our defenders (defender on the ball and screener’s defender) go for a LONG time with their dribbler consistently creating a 4 on 3 for the other team which leads to high percentage baskets. I have seen this the last several games.

  • AADave

    Great analysis, Dylan.

    The biggest concerns for this team seem to be on the inside – both offensively and defensively. Their bigs (Morgan, Horford and McGary) were a collective 0-5 today. Defensively, they gave up 9 offensive boards while collecting 7 and allowed PSU’s forwards to shoot 11-19. That’s just plain horrible.

    Overall, they lost the battle of the boards 33-23.

    If the big men don’t step up, this team is not going to finish the season strong or make a deep tourney run. I still have some hope. Morgan at full strength will help. Horford and McGary both show great effort but need to channel their energy a little more effectively.

    As for the others, I think there a some positives. GR III showed more energy and this resulted in more scoring opportunities. He still needs to work on creating his own offense. The big three offense creators continue to be Burke, Hardaway and Stauskas. Burke showed a little more discipline in not just settling for a late three. Hardaway continues to make good decisions although he seemed just a little off – he had a little bad luck on the layup that rimmed out and on a 3 that was in and out. He also had to take a couple deep prayers after the ball was dumped in his hands with the shot clock nearing zero – not exactly his fault. With a little better luck, he would have had a 5-9 night from the floor and normally would have made a couple more free throws. His aggressive slashing is key to making this offense hum. Stauskas appears to have worked through some glitches and adjusted to Big Ten play.

    Last but not least, the Vogrich sighting was great to see. I honestly think he should see a few more minutes since we’ve seen the pitfalls of too many freshmen on the floor.

  • MGoTweeter

    not quite what I was hoping for going into the game, but I will say that the team did respond a bit after the half. That first half might have been the worst defensive half of basketball I have seen from a Michigan team since the Ellerbe days. The second half they did a much better job of challenging dribble penetration early and forcing kick outs instead of layups. Unfortunately, Penn St hit a lot of those kick outs.

    The big thing I am really starting to notice as a problem for Michigan on defense is not the second defender but the third. A lot of commenters have been ragging on the bigs for the way they defend the p’n’r, but most times when the opponent gets a layup out of it off the roll man, the third defender or wing defender is to blame. With the way that Michigan plays the p’n’r (either a very hard hedge or a quasi trap), the wing defender needs to rotate to the big rolling and take that pass away first. Several times, especially in the first half that wing defender got caught in between, which is the worst possible situation. Ideally, if you are going to play the ball handler that hard, you need to wing to rotate down until the big man can recover. You are sacrificing an open three, but that is much better than a layup.

    However, I am also noticing that the third defenders are struggling in non p’n’r situations. Today there were several times where PSU was playing with three guards out top. The ball is on the wing and the wing penetrated towards the middle drawing the top man’s defender to help. Then the ball was kicked to the top man. The issue started right before this. That third defender (the off weak side wing who was guarding the opposite man from the ball out top) had already helped over to the middle. Once the ball got to the top man, Michigan now had two players out of position. The top man’s original defender who helped on the wing drive and the weak side defender who rotated too far to the middle.

    This created an easy drive and pitch to the weak side. Once that next pass was made to the opposite wing from the top man, there was no way to recover. This often times led to either an easy drive for a layup or a mad scramble which left michigan with no one guarding the basket or in rebounding position.

    It seems to me that Michigan is caught trying to play a defense that they just do not have the players to play. All of the above would be fine if they had a shot blocking presence down low or a bunch of insanely quick wings. They have neither. The best approach based on the personnel that they do have, would be to take a page out of Wisconsin’s play book. Pack it in and force teams to beat them from the outside. The only other option I think they have is to get uber aggressive on everything and try to force turnovers as much as they can with the understanding that they are going to give up a lot of layups. Personally I don’t think that is sustainable for a deep tourney run. But packing it in and trying to force every team into a shooting match might be.

    • ChathaM

      I felt that the “third defender” had been doing a much better job since prior to Christmas. But, that consistent rotation doesn’t seem like it’s been there over the past 2-3 weeks. That’s just a general thought; would have to go back and re-watch many games to know for sure. I do agree with your general point, especially in recent games.

    • Adam St Patrick

      At one point it looked like McGary was going to be that shotblocker. Starting with the Iowa game there was a stretch of 5 games where he had 9, or something like that? Seems he’s been a little more floorbound since then.

  • Champswest

    On one UM possession today, a shot went up and only 1 UM player went to the basket (I think it was Mitch). The other 4 started running back on defense. All 5 PSU players were in rebounding position. There was no fast break to defend and PSU isn’t really a running threat. It’s was not the first time this year that I have seen this. Contrast this to IU where Zeller seems to score half of his points on follow ups. MSU does this well also. I sure would like to see our bigs do this more often.

  • Indiana_Matt

    they where fired up and ROBINSON my gosh I was cheering loud because thats my cousin

  • mikey_mac

    OK, I didn’t get to watch this game very closely, but my quick response is, these guys really still don’t understand team defense, and are just trying to react out there based off the coaching. As already noted in this thread, the help defense on PNR plays is constantly hesitant and late, and McGary, in particular, needs to hedge the ball handler in a way that limits options, not opens up passing lanes.
    We should be very thankful PSU’s defense was consistently unwilling to stick properly on their assignments, giving GRIII a ton of space to run free along the baseline. Possibly we can just attribute this to Burke, who just had his way with the PSU backcourt.
    W(h)ither Timmy?
    Let’s see if another week of practice can get this group more focused. A win is a win, and I’ll take it.

  • Saw Donnal and Walton sunday at the game, Donnal seemed a bit more into it, Walton didn’t seem to pay attention to the game at all, never got excited about anything, I thought that was weird as a basketball player, you usually watch the game a little differently than the average person, but figured the kid would be excited to be a wolverine. Donnal was in front of me at will call, legit height. Nice to see Zack at the game as well. Not sure what Coach B is doing with his rotations, hopefully he figures it out before/during the B1G tourney