After a grueling four-game stretch over the last two weeks, the Wolverines return home for a much needed break. Three losses have left Michigan two games back in the Big Ten race with no wiggle room remaining.
Thankfully, Penn State is next on the docket – for two of the next three – and should allow Michigan the opportunity to work out some of the kinks that have developed over the past couple of weeks.
Penn State comes in winless in the conference and just 8-16 overall. None of the eight wins have come against a quality opponent and two of them were in overtime. Needless to say, this is not a very good basketball team.
The Nittany Lions were dealt a huge blow in the fourth game of the season when point guard Tim Frazier ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. He was a first-team All-Big Ten member a year go as the lone bright spot of the team, averaging 18.8 points per game overall and 19.6 in conference play.
Without Frazier, Penn State needed another playmaker to step up and they got it from D.J. Newbill. The sophomore leads the team with a scoring average of 16.2, but is averaging 20 over the past four games including a 26-point output against Iowa on Thursday. That was nearly enough to earn Penn State’s first conference victory, but Iowa pulled it out 74-72. He also scored 27 on Jan. 16 against Michigan State and has just three games all season of single-digits. Perhaps the most impressive part of Newbill’s scoring is that he does it mostly from inside the arc. He’s just 11-of-54 from three-point range on the season.
Fellow guard Jermaine Marshall averages 14.7 points per game including a 29-point and 10-rebound output against Michigan State, which was by far his best game of the season. He’s a better three-point shooter than Newbill, hitting 31 percent, though he doesn’t shoot as well overall.
No other Nittany Lion averages in double figures. Forward Ross Travis is the third leading scorer at 6.4 points per game, but leads the team with a seven rebound average. He has five games of double-digit rebounds as well as five double-digit scoring games.
Forward Sasa Borovnjak, a 6’9″ junior, averages 6.1 points, but is coming off a 14 points performance against Iowa. Freshman Brandon Taylor averages sis points and is capable of stepping out and hitting the occasional three despite his 6’9″, 235-pound frame.
As a team, Penn State shoots just 38.4 percent overall and 27.5 percent from three-point range. The Nittany Lions turn the ball over 12.6 times per game and give up 34 rebounds per contest.
Even though the Lions nearly pulled off a win over Iowa on Thursday and played Michigan State tough, don’t expect Michigan to have much trouble. The Wolverines will be wearing white retro jerseys to commemorate the 1968 team that opened Crisler Arena. Michigan should win comfortably. Prediction: Michigan 77 – Penn State 59.