Big Ten Tournament: Michigan vs. Penn State Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 83, Penn State 66-5
Dustin Johnston

MICH 83 1.34 29-63 46% 23-45 51% 6-18 33% 19-23 83% 15 21 15 4 6 9 10
PSU 66 1.07 30-60 43% 27-52 52% 3-8 38% 5-8 63% 11 21 12 8 3 4 16

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.

Michigan 83, Penn State 66-17

Player Bullets:

  • 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.
  • Little Perm

    Michigan gave up 66 points, not 72.

  • Brad S

    In the stats at the top you have Penn St with 72 points instead of 66

    • Thanks guys :-) Copy and pasted from the Indiana game and missed updating the first column.

  • it seemed that Penn State made some tough and some lucky shots this afternoon, I didn’t think the defense was as bad as the numbers say it was.

    • tjm32

      I hope you’ve got some lucky shots in you this weekend.

  • ChathaM

    UM did a much better job against PSU’s zone pressure than they did at State College. They were obviously well prepared for it, and I believe they only turned it over once (Burke) against that look.

    I thought that UM defenders closed out on perimeter players better than they have all season. Maybe that’s been an emphasis in practice over the last while, as I felt that their closeouts were a little better than usual against IU as well. PSU was not allowed many early offence open 3 point looks, and I felt that was a direct result of the better closeouts.

    A lot of people have commented on this over the past week; Beilein seems like a genuinely good guy, and I’m happy that we have a class act like that on our sideline. There was no blow-by handshake after the game; in fact, Beilein and Chambers actually had a conversation, which is very rare in the college game. I also noticed Chambers having a hands-on conversation with Meyer after the game. I’m going to pretend it’s theme was “I can’t believe what an asshat Crean is”.

    • Fair point on the close outs, especially because PSU had 8 3PA to 60 FGA

      • Mark Worthley

        Stauskas needs to get more defensive rebounds. Squeeze the orange!

  • Alex

    Hang in there JMo you’ve got this.

  • eddieben

    Anyone see Burke seem to roll his ankle in the second half along the PSU baseline right before a timeout? Hopefully i was imagining it?

  • MGoTweeter

    I know you are a big fan of the numbers Dylan and they are very good tools to use evaluate a team over the course of many games, however I think they fail to show an accurate picture of what happened in a particular game. Today’s game, minus the first five minutes where Michigan ceded a number of easy baskets in a row, I thought Michigan played good defense.

    Not great by any means and there were still times where PSU got free for an easy look, but most of the time Michigan’s players were in great position to challenge shots and force PSU into tough shots. PSU made a number of runners in this game that were contested, in the prior game a lot of those were just wide open. They also did a great job of finding shooters and closing out on shooters, as a prior poster mentioned.

    I don’t think Michigan has come to any sort of epiphany and they are going to become a consistently good defensive team nor do I think that PSU is the greatest of challenges (they are much better than their numbers say they are at this moment in time), but I do think this was an encouraging sign. Michigan does not have the pieces to be great on defense (they lack quick on ball defenders, shot blockers, overall size, etc), but if they can play like they did today and force teams into challenged shots that are not layups, they can be effective on that end.

    • Northern Blue

      I think they could be much better on defence. If you compare them to say Purdues team last year, who still managed to be very good even without Hummel in the line up with DJ Byrd as their 4 man. I think almost every player minus Stauskas has average to above average lateral quickness. You can see how athletic this team is on the fast break. They may be missing a little bit in size, especially at the 4 spot, but they have solid size at every other position.

      I think as the season went on and they were undefeated for so long the defensive intensity lessened, and the teams chip on their shoulder, their swagger, or whatever you want to call it lessened as well. Now, obviously missing Morgan for a period of time and having all the youngsters playing has a lot to do with not being a great defensive team, but Timmy especially was great at doing all the little things early in the year, Glenn was better on boards and D, and I think those two guys regressing a bit on defence has really hurt us. I thought the team played great D against MSU, and hopefully their defence will rise to the occasion when it needs to.

      • Adam St Patrick

        Agree with this post and the one above. I thought Michigan played a good defensive game today, albeit not from the tip. I think they’ve done what it takes on defense for four consecutive games. I wish it would have happened sooner but they seem to be willing to grind them out now.

        Horford and McGary looked suddenly and shockingly great. Anyone any thoughts on that? I’ll have to rewatch but I was amazed at that. McGary played some nice and patient post defense a few times, which for him is a nice sign of progress.

        • Mattski

          McGary’s ultimate promise is more taken for granted, but I’ve always thought Horford could be a star. If he comes on down the stretch here. . . woot. Meanwhile, where the bigs are concerned, I’m mystified how Morgan can go from leading the league in shooting percentage for most of two years to needing a psychiatrist to shoot a layup. But there it is.

          • Adam St Patrick

            Just IMO but part of that is that Morris was so good at dumping off to him. He wasn’t the same finisher last year that he was two years ago. Missed a lot of point-blank shots last year too, IIRC.

      • MGoTweeter

        I would argue that Burke is the only player that sees significant minutes that has above average lateral quickness. Hardaway is very fast up and down the floor but he struggles to stay in front of people on defense. Robinson is slower than Morgan laterally and maybe even Stauskas. Levert shows some signs of being pretty quick laterally but his quickness takes him out of as many plays as it helps him.

        Michigan gets by with some of these guys because they do have good length for wings/guards. However, that length does not help down low when defending in the post on the ball and when helping once the ball is entered.

        I do think the injury to Morgan hurt the overall growth of the defense as did the step up in competition. Certainly they can improve and be better but I do not think their ceiling is very high at all. I have always thought that their best option was to pack it in like Wisconsin, keep everyone in front of you and force players to shoot over the top of the length on the wings. The problem with that is that they often times just get beat to cleanly off the dribble forcing over-help and eventually failed rotations doom them.

        All that said, if they can play like they did today consistently, they will give themselves a shot in most games regardless of their offense.

        Side notes, I did not think the MSU was particularly great defense. I thought Indiana was much better (minus rebounding obviously). Against MSU, I thought MSU just missed a lot of open looks and Michigan got in their heads a bit with the charges. Also, Purdue (according to the numbers) was not a good defensive team last season. Kenpom had them around 88 which was nearly thirty spots behind Michigan.

        • Adam St Patrick

          I remember thinking about this during the MSU game. IIRC at the point that Ted Valentine took it over MSU had scored 12 points in the half. In 15 minutes of basketball. Granted Sparty missed some shots and we drew some friendly charge calls. But, still — 12 points in 15 minutes, if I recall it correctly. Gotta give the defense at least some credit for that.

  • Champswest

    I hope McGary and Horford gained some confidence from their great play today. We will likely need them tomorrow.

  • Mitch

    Glenn Robinson simply has shown that he is not an effective four. His defensive rebounding is poor because he’s constantly out of position or failing to block out his man. He has zero post up game, which although Beilein likes to play the stretch 4, it’s not working for him. I love GRIII as a player but Beilein needs to stop playing him at the four. He’s just bad at it and it hurts this team against good teams. He can’t guard any legitimate big man. He’s a wing player. Our big man are good rebounders. It’s the guards and GRIII who are responsible for the rebounding issues. Anyone agree/disagree?

    • gobluemd16

      I think your assessment is a little too harsh, but in general, I actually agree. I think he is more suited for the wing on defense. For as athletic as he is, he is not a great rebounder and that often hurts the team, and he is slow at times on defensive rotations as well (although that hurts no matter what position he plays). I don’t mean to be harsh on him either, he is only a freshman, but he leaves something to be desired on D.

    • ChathaM

      His defensive rebounding is poor, but I don’t think positioning is the primary reason. I think it’s because he’s consistently smaller and physically weaker than the player he’s trying to keep off the boards. It’s a choice that Beilein makes, and has had to make all season; a trade-off; to play Robinson at that spot. I can’t say with any confidence that the team would be better off with a different set-up.

  • Dr_ZC

    Did anybody see THj picture in the starting lineup againt PSU at BTN? That was not him, or any other M player. Somebody must have hacked BTN.

    • rlcBlue

      That’s his cold-blooded cousin Antifreeze Hardaway.

      • TheKuwaKid

        it was DJ Richardson lol

      • Dr_ZC

        Looked more like his twin cousin

  • Mr_Sledge

    I’m actually disappointed in the amount of people that thought the defense was good at any time of the game. Penn St drove to the bucket at will. We never stopped them… Newbill just got tired and started missing shots. I don’t know the breakdown, but I’d guess that 70% of PSU’s points came in the paint. We have got some serious problems stopping penetration, rotating over to help, then rebounding after rotating.

    • Adam St Patrick

      Which, IMO, goes to show you how much defense is about hustling. The problems are there over and over again for us all to see. Hedging out to 25 feet doesn’t make sense either, and some of our guys are just simply not built for defense. But if you hustle and try, you get a significant part of the way there.

      • Mr_Sledge

        Totally agree with you Adam. I’m actually curious why we don’t defend the high screen any other way than hedging our big. We play every defender the same way… even if he doesn’t have a jumper. Why not let the guard cheat under? And what ever happened zone?

        • I know there have been some examples of Michigan playing poor ball screen defense this year but saying that Michigan plays every ball screen the same way is crazy talk.

          Michigan’s zone defense hasn’t been good all year… Still not convinced that’s the answer.

          • Mr_Sledge

            Maybe I should clarify… every ball screen with one of our bigs involved, we hedge. I do realize that our 1-4’s (with Robinson) normally switch.

            In my SIMPLE mind, some concepts in basketball apply across all levels. If you’re getting beat by penetration, down in the post, and outrebounded, you try a zone (probably 2-3). Yes our zone hasn’t been great, but to watch a team come down and score in the paint at will is frustrating.

    • PeteM

      As I recall a few of those runners in the paint were tough shots where we had a hand in the shooters face. They weren’t layups or dunks where the ball handler got past the entire defense.

  • OPD

    I’m very happy right now. Penn State has given us lots of trouble this season, and I was concerned about the game. The team showed confidence and hustle. There was no letdown with a few minutes left in the game.

  • mikey_mac

    Second half was full of great individual help defense by UM … They successfully clogged the lane and forced kick-outs to weak shooters who can’t take advantage of open looks, and also successfully contested for the ball on the floor.
    These are evidence of good defense, not 1.07-PPP defense. PSU made some circus shots to get to that rate.