It’s becoming clear that Michigan’s defense isn’t going to transform into one of the nation’s best overnight. It’s already March and the only option is to lean on what got you this far. For Michigan, that’s offense. The Wolverines still have one of the very best offenses in the country; an offense good enough to outscore all but the very best scoring teams in the country. Despite recent improvement, Penn State doesn’t come close to that category.
The Nittany Lions rattled off a 14-0 run in the game’s opening moments but Michigan rebounded and was able to take a 19-16 lead and keep Penn State at arm’s length before pulling away down the stretch. The Wolverine offense rarely sputtered, scoring an impressive 83 points on just 62 possessions – 1.34 points per trip. The defense left something to be desired but the Nittany Lions didn’t have another Herculean offensive performance in reserve and simply couldn’t keep up with Michgan’s firepower.
A comfortable win over Penn State is only important because it isn’t a loss. The win won’t send the Wolverines flying up the S-curve or ease the disappointment of Sunday’s loss to Indiana but it keeps Michigan in the same place it was before Thursday’s game and sets up an intriguing quarterfinal against Wisconsin.
Michigan’s offense dominated despite an average shooting night – 51% effective field goal percentage, 52% two point shooting, 32% three point shooting – because it was able to control the other three factors. The Wolverines rebounded 42% of their missed shots, converting 28 second chance points, and only turned the ball over on seven percent of its offensive possessions. The offensive rebounding was a welcome sight but since February 5th against Ohio State, Michigan hasn’t rebounded over 30% of its misses against any team other than Penn State. Michigan was able to exploit the foul happy Nittany Lions by attempting 23 free throws to 63 field goal attempts.
This was Michigan’s 4th best offensive performance in a season that’s been defined by superb offensive performances. It was also the first time that Michigan had topped 1.20 points per possession since January. Most of the talk of Michigan’s regression has surrounded the defense – and rightfully so – but the Wolverine offense has also gone from the very best in the country to “very good” over the last month. Finding an offensive groove on a neutral court could be a strong first step toward a post-season run in Chicago or beyond.
Michigan’s big men were especially impressive on the offensive end of the floor. While Jordan Morgan went 2-of-6 from the floor, Mitch McGary and Jon Horford combined to score 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting. McGary dominated the first half with his offensive rebounding, while Horford was effective scoring all around the basket in the second.
Defensively, this isn’t a game that’s going to leave many warm feelings. Penn State is much improved offensively but allowing the Nittany Lions to score 1.07 points per trip is still not great defense. Three of Penn State’s four best offensive performances against Big Ten opponents have come against Michigan. The Wolverines didn’t force many turnovers but did manage to keep the Nittany Lions off of the free throw line. Penn State rebounded 34 percent of its missed shots but only managed to score 15 second chance points.
Michigan will face Wisconsin on Friday afternoon (~2:30 p.m. eastern) in quarterfinal action in yet another revenge opportunity as the Wolverines look to make up for Ben Brust’s half court buzzer beater.
- Trey Burke: Burke only had three assists but was very active looking to distribute the ball to the roll man early. He looked for his three point shot (3-of-5) quite a bit, mostly because Penn State kept going under ball screens. In the second half, when Michigan needed, he hit his fair share of big shots. Overall it was a quiet but effective 21 point night, something that’s tough to accomplish for most other players in the country.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway really got Michigan started with two strong drives to the hoop in the first half. However, his shooting stroke is still missing in action. Hardaway was just 1-of-7 from long range and also really struggled with the midrange elbow jumper off of the dribble that he seemed to fall in love with. He finished with 15 points but needed 14 FGA to get there and had just one rebound. His five assists were a single game best since Michigan’s win at Minnesota on January 17th.
- Mitch McGary: McGary’s energy changed the game. He scored on a roll to the rim, had a big steal (even though he missed the dunk badly), had a couple of put backs, and all of the sudden had a first half double double. McGary’s energy is impossible to overrate and when he’s able to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble good things happen. His five offensive rebounds changed the game but his six defensive rebounds were great to see as he’s struggled on that end of late.
- Jon Horford: Horford started with a nice tip in and then slowly built confidence. He scored 11 second half points and was impressive finishing all around the rim from different angles. Horford also blocked two shots in 10 minutes and grabbed five rebounds. Not a bad day for Michigan’s No. 3 big man, and encouraging heading into tomorrow’s Wisconsin rematch.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas hit two threes in the first half when Michigan needed a spark and was effective off the bounce in the second. He also got a big dunk off of a nice sideline out of bounds play thanks to an assist from Robinson. Stauskas got to the line five times, grabbed five rebounds and scored 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting. The freshman has now played three strong offensive games in a row and Michigan is certainly going to need his firepower down the stretch.
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson was very quiet in the first half but opened the second with a steal and breakaway dunk. He was outplayed by Ross Travis again, and finished with five points, six rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist in 34 minutes. To his credit, and for the second game in a row, he did have a very strong take to the hoop and finished through contact.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan’s confidence around the basket is simply shot. He’s looking for ways to miss rather than going up strong and finishing. He was just 2-of-6 from the floor and his spotty play early allowed Penn State to get out to a big start. Morgan’s discipline defensively is vital but Michigan needs him to make layups.