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Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Wolverines’

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Michigan State

Monday, October 20th, 2014


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Congratulations to Hazel Parker for picking up his first win of the season. He won twice last season and three times in 2011. He was the only contestant under 100 points last week with a deviation of 96, topping second place tooty_pops by 42. As is usually the case, Hazel Parker wasn’t the closest in any single category, but was the most consistent across the board. He was third-closest to Christian Hackenberg’s passing yards (52 away), sixth-closest to Michigan’s rushing yards (28 away), second-closest to the minutes until Michigan’s first turnover (three away), and third-closest to the longest field goal (three away). He wins a $20 M Den gift card.

Kashkaav correctly predicted that the longest field goal would be 45 yards, while Maizenblu62 was only one away. Kfarmer16 was the closest to Devin Gardner’s longest completion, only one away with his prediction of 44 yards. Bigboyblue and BigHouseBrandon were the closest to the minutes until Michigan’s first turnover. It happened 16 minutes into the game and they both predicted 17. MEKMichigan’s prediction of 67  yards was the closest to Michigan’s rushing total (64), while Kashkaav’s guess of 180 was the closest to Hackenberg’s passing yards (160).

No one correctly predicted the final score, although MichiganMack was the closest with his prediction of Michigan 20 – Penn State 12. The average score prediction was Michigan 24 – Penn State 23 and 14 of the 21 contestants picked Michigan to win.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated.

After a bye week, Michigan heads up the road to face rival Michigan State. Here are this week’s questions.

Jeff Meyer to be inducted into Taylor University Hall of Fame

Friday, October 17th, 2014


Jeff Meyer(Daniel Brenner, AnnArbor.com)

Michigan basketball assistant coach Jeff Meyer will be inducted into the Taylor University Athletic Hall of Fame on Saturday. Taylor also happens to be my Alma mater. The university issued a release this afternoon.

“I am humbled and feel extremely blessed with this honor,” said Meyer. “Taylor University provided me a life changing college experience as a student-athlete which enabled me to establish a Faith foundation that has served my family and me well in our journey through life together.

“Life is a team sport. So many friends, co-workers, colleagues and former players have made this recognition possible. I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to these life teammates, and especially my wife, Karen, and our family for their enduring support and encouragement.”

“Jeff values his education at Taylor so much,” said Michigan Head Coach John Beilein. “He talks about it often and knows it’s been a separator for him in his life that allowed him to get into coaching and allowed him to have a tremendous career as a coach. It’s terrific to be recognized by your Alma Mater in an environment like this; he certainly deserves it and I’m glad they are honoring him in this way.”

A 1976 Taylor graduate, Meyer is beginning his seventh season as a member of the Michigan basketball staff. During in time in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines have won a pair of Big Ten championships (2012, ’14) and reached the NCAA Tournament five times, including back-to-back Elite Eight’s in 2013 and 2014, including a trip to the Final Four and championship game in 2013.

Meyer has spent 36 years coaching collegiately and has been a part of 670 victories as a head and assistant coach, including 19 trips to postseason competition.

A native of Reynolds, Ind., Meyer began his collegiate coaching career as an assistant at Purdue, helping the Boilermakers to a Big Ten championship in 1979 and the Final Four in 1980. He then spent one season as an assistant at South Florida, where he helped the Bulls reach the NIT.

Meyer was the head coach at Liberty University for 16 seasons from 1981-97, guiding the Flames through their transition from NAIA to NCAA Division I. Meyer won 259 games at Liberty and is the school’s all-time winningest coach. In 1994, Meyer and the Flames won the Big South and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

Following his time at Liberty, Meyer worked as an assistant at Winthrop (1998-01), Butler (2001-04), Missouri (2004-06) and Indiana (2006-08) prior to coming to Ann Arbor. During those 10 seasons, Meyer helped guide his teams to eight postseason appearances, including six NCAA Tournament trips, highlighted by Butler reaching the Sweet 16 in 2003.

Meyer is one of four inductees into the Taylor University Athletic Hall of Fame this weekend, joining long-time Taylor Faculty Athletic Representative Tim Burkholder, former men’s tennis head coach Bob Blume and women’s basketball player Liz Plass Martin.

Taylor is a perennial NAIA basketball power that has gained notoriety in recent years for its Silent Night tradition that has been featured on ESPN. Meyer played at Taylor for legendary coach Don Odle, who led Taylor from 1947-79. In the early 1950s, Odle founded Venture for Victory, which took all-star college basketball players on playing trips to countries such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Odle also coached Taiwan’s national team during the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

Odle was replaced by Paul Patterson, who guided Taylor from 1979-2013. Following last season, Patterson retired as the winningest collegiate coach in Indiana history with 734, 73 wins ahead of second-place Bob Knight. He led the Trojans to 15 conference championships, 14 NAIA National Tournament appearances, two Sweet 16s and a Final Four while producing 24 NAIA All-Americans.

In addition to Meyer, Taylor has produced a great coaching tree that includes Illinois head coach John Groce, who played for Patterson from 1991-93, former Gardner-Webb head coach and current Butler University interim head coach Chris Holtmann, and Indiana Wesleyan University women’s head coach Steve Brooks.

Beilein, Michigan hungry to get back to Final Four

Thursday, October 16th, 2014


Beilein(Julian H Gonzalez, Detroit Free Press)

John Beilein took the podium for the first time in this new season Thursday morning to preview Michigan’s upcoming season. Big Ten Media Day came just one day after the preseason conference media rankings were released, pegging Michigan as the fifth-best team in the Big Ten.

“It is good to be here and get the season going again,” Beilein said in his opening statement. “We’ve been practicing for a little bit, but Oct. 15, yesterday, was the first day we really opened up camp and said we’re in it now.”

Beilein was peppered with questions about this season’s young team and whether it’s equipped with the tools to make another deep tournament run in March. When asked what challenges standin the way of a return to the Final Four, Beilein spoke from experience, having reached that stagejust two seasons ago.

“I’m as hungry or probably hungrier than ever to get back there,” he said. So I think it’s great motivation for everybody because they’ve experienced that run.”

Last season the Wolverines were just seconds away from another trip to the Final Four, but a deep three-pointer by Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison with virtually no time remaining took Michigan out of the running.

But Beilein wasn’t brooding over the past, he’s ready for what promises to be another long journey with the 2014-15 team, though one filled with ups and downs.

“It’s maybe not getting [to the Final Four], it’s the way you get there and how you get there and those moments in between, the journey,” Beilein said. “It makes it so valuable. So yes, it’s hard. You’d like  to stay injury-free…it’s very normal to have times during that year where you’re not going to play well. You won’t look like a Final Four team, and that’s exactly what you may need in February or late January or even in March.”

Questions surround a Michigan program that lost starters Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Jordan Morgan along with big men Mitch McGary and Jon Horford. Beilein’s group will count on another big year from their guards to lead the team.

Among the returning guards is junior Caris LeVert, who was named to the All-Big Ten first team.Beilein thinks his star shooting guard can handle the spotlight in Ann Arbor.

“He was in it a bit last year,” Beilein said. “I mean, there were several games where we just wentto him because people were doing things with Nik or Glenn, Jordan Morgan, Mitch, so we just went with him. He’s sort of used to it.”

Beilein said he loves LeVert’s personality because he doesn’t let anything both him. His level demeanor keeps him from getting too high when the team is rolling or too low when times get hard.

Of the trip to Italy, the head coach said it helped his team learn more about the world as a whole, but also about the game of basketball. He said the coaching staff has a better understanding of who can make adjustments on the fly and adapt to situations quickly.

Michigan will start the regular season against Hillsdale College on Nov. 15 in Ann Arbor.

Caris LeVert named to preseason All-Big Ten first team

Thursday, October 16th, 2014


Big Ten Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals(Getty Images)

Michigan junior guard Caris LeVert was named to the All-Big Ten first team Thursday during Big Ten basketball media day.

LeVert, who was named to the second team last season, started all 37 games as a sophomore and averaged 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He helped lead Michigan to an outright Big Ten championship and the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

This is the third straight season a Michigan player has received the honor. LeVert joins Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway and Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky on the squad. Kaminsky received Big Ten player of the year honors.

LeVert was also named to the 2014 USBWA All-District V Team, was the Rudy Tomjanovich Most Improved Player and Steve Grote Hustle Award recipient at the Wolverines annual postseason celebration.

As a junior LeVert will be asked to lead the Wolverines in the wake of departures from Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgans from last season.

Michigan opens the regular season against Hillsdale College on Nov. 15 at the Crisler Center.

Michigan fifth in preseason Big Ten basketball media poll

Thursday, October 16th, 2014


Beilein(Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Michigan has become one of the most consistent basketball schools in the Big Ten conference under head coach John Beilein. Over the past four seasons the Wolverines have racked up a 104-41 record en route to four NCAA Tournament appearances, two Elite Eights and a national championship game.

Michigan has been equally dominant within the Big Ten during that span, winning the conference by three games last season for its second title in three years. Beilein’s group is averaging over 12 wins in the Big Ten per season since 2010-11, never finishing below fourth place.

But an exodus of talent to the NBA and graduation has raised questions about the upcoming Michigan season. Sixty percent of the starting lineup is gone, including the team’s leading scorer and passer (Nik Stauskas) and top three rebounders (Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Glenn Robinson III).

The uncertainty is reflected in the Big Ten preseason media poll, released on Wednesday as the conference descends upon Chicago for Big Ten Media Day, which pinned Michigan at No. 5 in the league. Above Michigan are Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska.

You can see the full rankings, along with the point totals, below:

Preseason media poll
Rank Team Points
1 Wisconsin 378
2 Ohio State 322
3 Michigan State 305
4 Nebraska 299
5 Michigan 286
6 Minnesota 226
7 Iowa 214
8 Illinois 196
9 Indiana 163
10 Maryland 162
11 Purdue 95
12 Penn State 84
13 Northwestern 78
14 Rutgers 27

Wisconsin, the unanimous No. 1 team, returns nearly every major contributor from last season’s Final Four team. Ohio State struggled in 2014 and fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to 11th-seeded Dayton, but brought in one of the top freshmen classes in the country. Michigan State, like Michigan, lost in the Elite Eight in March and waved goodbye to three of its starters: Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. Nebraska was knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Baylor, but returns most of the team that finished the regular season 8-1.

Michigan fans can reasonably argue that the team should rank just behind Wisconsin, as Beilein has proven this team to be a mainstay among the top teams in the Big Ten. But it looks like the country wants emerging stars like Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. to prove themselves this season before investing in this team.

Perhaps the skepticism stems from the lack of size on Michigan’s roster. Freshmen Rocky Doyle and Mark Donnal check in at 6-foot-9, the tallest listings on the team. If they can hold their own next to a slew of talented guards, Michigan should finish much higher than fifth in the Big Ten standings.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 7

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014


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East Division
1. Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 45-31 This Week: Sat at Indiana (3-3, 0-2), 3:30pm, ESPN

Purdue stayed much closer to the top-10 Spartans than most fans expected, scoring 31 points on the vaunted MSU defense. But Michigan State escaped by scoring 45 points and stayed perfect in the Big Ten

2. Ohio State (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Rutgers (5-1, 1-1), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Ohio State had a week off to prepare for Rutgers this weekend after dropping 52 points on Maryland Oct. 4. The Buckeyes are likely the only team with a chance to battle Michigan State for the East Division.

3. Rutgers (5-1, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at #13 Ohio State (4-1, 1-1), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

After storming the field to celebrate the school’s first Big Ten win, Rutgers students took a week of rest before a difficult end to October. Rutgers will go on the road to face Ohio State and Nebraska before welcoming Wisconsin to town on Nov. 1.

4. Michigan (3-4, 1-2) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Penn State 18-13 This Week: Bye (10/25 at Michigan State)

Michigan sorely needed a victory to end a three-game losing streak, and it did so in dramatic fashion, holding on to beat Penn State 18-13 on Saturday night. The four teams that have beaten Michigan so far this season have a combined record of 20-3 and an average AP ranking of 22.5.

5. Maryland (4-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Iowa (5-1, 2-0), 12pm, ESPN2

A sellout crowd couldn’t have been more ready for Maryland’s first Big Ten home game last weekend, but the Terrapins were smashed by 28 points at the hands of the Buckeyes. Maryland will now battle Iowa at home following its bye week.

6. Penn State (4-2, 1-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Michigan 13-18 This Week: Bye (10/25 vs Ohio State)

Penn State has fallen mightily from its 4-0 start, dropping two straight conference games by a combined score of 47-19. Penn State will have the week off before a tough matchup against OSU.

7. Indiana (3-3, 0-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Iowa 29-45 This Week: Sat vs #8 Michigan State (5-1, 2-0), 3:30pm, ESPN

Indiana is 3-0 outside the Big Ten, but got blown out by both Maryland and Iowa. The Hoosiers are proof that it’s tough to win in this conference without a capable defense.

BIG East Week 7

West Division
1. Minnesota (5-1, 2-0) – Up 4
Last Week: Beat Northwestern 24-17 This Week: Sat vs Purdue (3-4, 1-2), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Minnesota is on top of the West division after another victory, this time over a Northwestern team that just upset Wisconsin a week earlier. With Purdue and Illinois up next, Minnesota could stay atop the standings for a few more weeks.

2. Nebraska (5-1, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Northwestern (3-3, 2-1), 7:30pm, Big Ten Network

Nebraska didn’t play in Week 7 after losing to Michigan State in Week 6. The Cornhuskers looked sluggish for much of three quarters against MSU, but should still battle Wisconsin for the West crown.

3. Iowa (5-1, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana 45-29 This Week: Sat at Maryland (4-2, 1-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Iowa finally blew out an opponent this weekend, crushing Indiana 45-29. The Hawkeyes could realistically win every game left on their schedule and contend for the first West Division championship, but they have to put together some complete games.

4. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Illinois 38-28 This Week: Bye (10/25 vs Maryland)

Illinois played Wisconsin tough on Saturday despite four touchdowns from running back Melvin Gordon. The Badgers just haven’t been impressive during the Big Ten season with a loss to Northwestern and a 10-point win over last-place Illinois.

5. Northwestern (3-3, 2-1) – Down 4
Last Week: Lost to Minnesota 17-24 This Week: Sat vs #19 Nebraska (5-1, 1-1), 7:30pm, Big Ten Network

Coming off of two straight upsets to shake up the Big Ten standings, Northwestern couldn’t stay unbeaten in the conference this weekend, falling to Minnesota by a touchdown.

6. Purdue (3-4, 1-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #8 Michigan State 31-45 This Week: Sat at Minnesota (5-1, 2-0), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Michigan State may have walked into West Lafayette looking past the lowly Boilermakers, but  Purdue still put up an impressive fight, racking up 31 points against the conference’s top defense.

7. Illinois (3-4, 0-3) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 28-38 This Week: Bye (10/25 vs Minnesota)

Illinois stuck with Wisconsin for much of the game Saturday, but just didn’t have the firepower to match Gordon’s outburst. The Fighting Illini are the only West team winless in the Big Ten.

BIG West Week 7

Michigan basketball Italy trip review and translation

Monday, October 13th, 2014


Michigan bball Italy(UMHoops)

Michigan fans, I have some good news for you: college basketball season is just around the corner. Practice has started, John Beilein is back at work with the team, and football will soon be a distant memory.

As everyone knows, the Wolverines took one of their every-four-years off-season trips this summer to play some lower-tier teams in Italy, and the results were encouraging, with four 20-plus point wins, a healthy dose of balanced scoring (eight players averaged more than eight points per game), and strong freshmen play.

About that last point, as Michigan fans have become accustomed to, the Maize and Blue will largely be looking to replace the lost production of Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, and Jon Horford with five freshmen and a sixth redshirt freshman. You’d be right to blame Beilein with continuous gripes of too much youth if not for his absurd record of turning these young (and often overlooked) Wolverines into high NBA Draft selections. Of those five departures, two were first-rounders, one was a second-rounder, another is off to play first division ball in Europe with Virtus Roma, and the last transferred to Florida. With this turnover comes new names and faces to follow, new games to drool over, and a bevy of prospects that are question marks waiting to become stars under Beilein’s tutelage.

Today, let’s take a trip back in time to analyze some tape of each projected rotation player in Italy and see how their style of play will translate this fall and what still needs to improve. Special thanks to UMHoops for the video.

#23 Caris LeVert – 6’7″, 200
Italy stats: 14.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 4.3 apg, 3 spg, 1.8 TOs, 50% FG, 40% 3pt., 64.3% FT, 4 starts

What he showed: After suffering a stress fracture in his foot over the summer, LeVert was thought to be iffy to even suit up in Italy. Instead, he looked completely healthy and ready to lead the team moving forward. The junior just turned 20 in August, but he certainly looked capable of being The Guy this season, even though his scoring numbers weren’t gaudy.

LeVert came to Ann Arbor two years ago as a late addition after John Groce left Ohio University for Illinois and was by most counts a frustrating, wiry, inconsistent human in jelly-in-basketball-player-mold. A year later, LeVert had easily become the second offensive option on a very talented squad. Now, he is fully expected to lead the team, and his play in Italy leaves few questions. His shot looks as smooth as ever, his passing is crisp, his off-the-ball and pick-and-roll play looks improved, and he can rebound and run with anyone. But what stood out most was his confidence.

In the past, LeVert would sometimes appear to be thinking two steps ahead of his feet and would carelessly turn it over or take an ill-advised shot, but now he is showing that he can take the ball, survey the defense, and take the smartest course of action with his long strides and terrific finishing ability. He is comfortable passing or shooting, he isn’t hesitating at all, and he can even be seen directing his comrades a couple times. By all means, expect an outstanding season from Caris.

Where he can improve: No basketball player is perfect, especially in college, but LeVert’s well-rounded game is hard to nitpick at. One area that I think he has the potential to be even better is his man-to-man defense. LeVert’s size (he grew an inch and gained plenty more weight this off-season) and length give him the prototypical shutdown defender mold, but he lacked aggressiveness at times on that end of the floor last year. His steal numbers are quite encouraging, and his free throw shooting shouldn’t be an issue.

#21 Zak Irvin 6’6″, 215
Italy stats: 20.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1 spg, 2.3 TOs, 68.8% FG, 66.7% 3pt., 83.3% FT, 4 starts

What he showed: Shooting, shooting, and more shooting. Zak Irvin proved how big of a deep threat he is while shooting 42.5 percent from downtown as a freshman who did one thing. It’s pretty clear that his stroke didn’t take a summer break, and his outside shot should continue to make it easier for him to develop a dribble-drive game. In this video, we see some strong finishes, but Irvin really only takes it to the rack by himself a couple of times off two or three dribbles to his left. The majority of his two-pointers here are breakaway dunks and smooth backdoor cuts that won’t be as readily available against better competition. His rebounding numbers are also phenomenal.

Where he can improve: Coaches and players alike have been raving about Irvin’s game since the end of last season, and he has great potential, but his game still lacks LeVert-level diversification. Irvin’s shot is so good right now that I think he relies on it perhaps a bit too much. Look for him to continue to work on his handling and driving skills while using his outside shot to his advantage in creating inside for himself and others. Irvin, like everyone else on the team, needs to also be a little lighter on his feet defensively and use his athleticism and length to create havoc.

#10 Derrick Walton 6’0″, 185
Italy stats: 8.8 ppg, 3.3 apg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 spg, 1.5 TOs, 44.8% FG, 27.3% 3pt., 50% FT, 4 starts

What he showed: If Caris LeVert is The Guy on this team and Zak Irvin is the dynamic sidekick, Derrick Walton needs to be the glue to hold everything together, and he looks the part to me. I love Walton’s creativity in the paint, his jump shot is worlds better from his high school days, and his acceleration and Trey Burkeian moves all point to No. 10 becoming the next great point guard out of Beilein’s factory. Walton’s high basketball IQ allowed him to learn the ins and outs of the offense rapidly as a freshman, and his grasp should only help the freshmen get up to speed that much sooner.

What he can improve: It’s tough to extrapolate too much from a few overseas blowouts, but Walton’s box scores seem to indicate that he may have spent some time away from the court this summer. His 10-2-9-14 scoring outputs point to a lack of consistency and his poor shooting certainly needs to improve, but I have no doubts that the small sample size and long off-season can take most of the blame here.

#34 Mark Donnal 6’9″, 240
Italy stats: 10.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, .3 bpg, .3 TOs, 69.6% FG, 0% 3pt. (0-3), 81.8% FT, 4 starts

What he showed: Redshirt freshman Mark Donnal displays great movement throughout this clip, and his soft touch around the basket will be a welcome addition after Jordan Morgan sometimes struggled throughout his career in finishing the bunnies. Donnal needs to be able to run the floor in this offense, and he looked more than capable of doing that, beating his man down on a couple occasions and then out-smarting a defender for position as well. Donnal’s high field goal and free throw percentages are exactly what this team needs out of him: smart, solid play and finishing. If he does that, his job is done. Lastly, Donnal’s 14 offensive rebounds to 12 defensive is something exciting to keep an eye on.

What he can improve: What intrigued me most about Donnal as a prospect was his outside shooting. Obviously as a big man you want Donnal to be able to play inside, and he appears to be picking that up pretty well, but his outside shot in high school made me drool over the possibilities in Beilein’s offense. The pick-and-pop would be a terrific addition to this offense, but unfortunately it looks like Donnal is still progressing inside before he thinks too much about stepping out for the trey. His 0-for-3 line from downtown is discouraging for me, and I think he has the talent to do a lot better than one block every four games.

#3 Kameron Chatman 6’7″, 210
Italy stats: 9.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2 spg, 1.3 TOs, 42.5% FG, 33.3% 3pt., 0.0% FT, 4 starts

What he showed: Chatman comes in this season as the most highly touted true freshman of the bunch, and his versatility should help contribute to Michigan’s excellent depth this season. Watching this video, I’m most impressed with Chatman’s vision and midrange game. For a big freshman, Chatman really zips off a few nice passes, and his confident stroke from just inside the deep line bring about memories of GRIII, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Trey Burke. Chatman’s role is just that, to be a role player who can score a few points, rebound well, defend, and provide value in different ways. He doesn’t need to fill up the stat sheet every night, but we should see a solid 6-9 points per game from the Oregon native. I feel like my keyboard is on replay, but Chatman also has great length and appears to have good, not great, athleticism.

What he can improve: Two things stick out right away in Chatman’s line after four games: low shooting percentages and zero attempted free throws. Chatman is most likely going to start from the beginning at the four spot for Beilein, meaning he’ll be going against guys his size on a regular basis. He is not going to be able to curtsy his way to easy one-dribble mid-rangers every night. Instead, Chatman needs to embrace aggressiveness, get to the hole a little more often, and either finish a layup or get fouled. His stroke looks very smooth right now, but he will need to up those shooting numbers a bit.

#32 Ricky Doyle 6’9″, 245
Italy stats: 11.5 ppg, 8 rpg, .3 apg, .3 bpg, 0 TOs, 74.1% FG, 60% FT

What he showed: Ricky Doyle was perhaps the biggest revelation of the Italy tour. In high school, Doyle played in a low-level league and was not active on the AAU circuit. Most of his development came from private lessons. Now in college, the book will be out soon that Doyle is a true big man in every sense of the word. Throughout his nearly three-minute long highlight video seen here, Doyle scored a number of strong buckets by finding open spots, running the floor well, and cleaning up misses, but the one thing that stood out to me was the number of times he put the ball on the floor – zero. Watch for yourself. Not once does Doyle put the rock to hardwood, even at the top of the key while waiting for the wings to complete their action. His field goal percentage is very impressive, and should stay pretty high this year considering the types of shots he’ll be taking, and his team-high eight rebounds per game are as encouraging a stat as any on this trip.

What he can improve: Doyle won’t be asked to do too much offensively this year other than finish off what Michigan’s skilled guards create for him, but some offensive versatility would be nice. He should be able to put the ball on the floor when going back-to-the-basket. Doyle’s free throw percentage is also a hair lower than what you’re comfortable with, and eventually he will work on his range. The Florida native will also want to improve his defensive footwork and mindset, as his 12 fouls were by far the most on the trip. With only him and Donnal really competing for minutes at the five, Doyle needs to be smart when it comes to foul trouble.

#12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman 6’4″, 175
Italy stats: 10 ppg, 2.5 apg, 3.3 rpg, 2.3 spg, 2.3 TOs, 47.8% FG, 20% 3pt., 64% FT

What he showed: Driving. If not for Doyle’s breakout performance, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s (you can’t expect me to write that out every time) impressive four-game stretch would be making the most headlines from the newbies. Michigan basketball’s Twitter account routinely went nuts over MAAR’s driving and finishing ability, and you spot a few glimpses throughout this clip. Abdur-Rahkman was a late pickup this off-season from the Philadelphia area, and while many questioned the scholarship offer, he already looks well on his way to providing immense value as that threat to get to the hole every time. I love his quickness on the dribble and his ability to keep his head up at all times. What’s more is that Abdur-Rahkman didn’t do all his damage in one game. He reached double figures in scoring three of four games and had multiple steals and assists in all four games.

What he can improve: Shooting. Abdur-Rahkman will earn minutes on the wing this season with his driving ability alone, and he should get to the free throw line often, but he will need to make defenders respect his outside shot if he is to bring his game up to the next level. Abdur-Rahkman made just two of his 10 three-point attempts on the trip, and he isn’t shown taking anything from distance in this video. The knock on his game in high school was always that shot, and it looks like he has a ways to go.

#24 Aubrey Dawkins 6’6″, 190
Italy stats: 9.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, .5 apg, .3 spg, .8 TOs, 63.6% FG, 62.5% 3pt., 80% FT

What he showed: Aubrey Dawkins, the son of former Duke great and current Stanford coach Johnny, is probably going to be just a shooter this season if he plays at all, and that’s fine – especially when he is draining nearly two-thirds of his deep attempts. His stroke is smooth and his prep year on the East Coast should serve him well in transitioning to the college game. Dawkins does also showcase a good handle and a few nice finishes in this cut-up, but I expect his game to be pretty similar to Zak Irvin’s of last year. The skinny native Californian is also reputed to be a terrific athlete, which will serve him well down the road and perhaps bring some Glenn Robinson III comparisons eventually.

What he can improve: Again, like Irvin, Dawkins will continue to work on his dribble-drive game so that defenders cannot simply stick to him in the corner and erase him from the picture. Dawkins will need to move around a lot to create open looks for himself while also improving on his ability to get to the rack and the free throw line (just five attempts in four games).

#2 Spike Albrecht 5’11″, 175
Italy stats: 5 ppg, 2.5 apg, 2 rpg, .8 spg, .8 TOs, 46.7% FG, 37.5% 3pt., 75% FT

What he showed: At 22 years old and in his junior season, Spike is pretty safely expected to be the ever-reliable backup point guard. He’s never going to be the biggest, strongest, or most athletic player on the court, but he is calm and collected with the ball in his hands and usually makes the right pass. I’d like to see him shoot a little bit more this season with his terrific numbers, but Albrecht can most definitely be counted on to dribble under the basket and somehow find that open guy on the opposite wing at least once a game. His cool approach to the game and quiet, relaxed demeanor should do well to keep the team playing their style.

What he can improve: There was one really nice behind-the-back, pull-up elbow jumper drained in this video that I’d love to see more from out of Spike, but other than perhaps increased aggressiveness, Albrecht has a very defined game and a somewhat defined ceiling.

# 5 D.J. Wilson 6’9″, 220
Italy stats: N/A

Unfortunately, D.J. Wilson broke his pinky just before the trip to Europe and was unable to take part in gameplay, so I will hold off scouting for now, but if you follow me on Twitter (@SamSedlecky), you’ll see that I have some very high hopes for this lanky Sacramento native.

Good Night: Michigan 18 – Penn State 13

Saturday, October 11th, 2014


UM win vs PSU(MGoBlue.com)

With their backs up against the wall, facing a fourth straight loss and a likely losing season, Michigan put together a spirited effort in front of 113,000 strong and knocked off Penn State 18-13. Despite the glam of the lights, the game was far from pretty — for either team — but Michigan gutted out a much needed win.

Penn State’s offense came out buzzing in the first quarter, but not on the big arm of sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Instead, it was with the legs of running back Bill Belton, who rushed for 51 yards in the first quarter after coming into the game with just 189 yards through the first five games. But Penn State managed just two Sam Ficken field goals on its first two possessions, from 35 yards and 32 yards out.

UM-PennState-small-final-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Penn State
Score 18 13
Record 3-4, 1-2 4-2, 1-2
Total Yards 256 214
Net Rushing Yards 64 54
Net Passing Yards 192 160
First Downs 12 16
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 3-30 5-23
Punts-Yards 5-219 5-167
Time of Possession 29:00 31:00
Third Down Conversions 6-of-15 6-of-17
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 0-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 6-40 3-14
Field Goals 3-for-3 2-for-2
PATs 1-for-1 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 1-of-2 3-of-3
Full Box Score

Michigan wasted no time putting points on the board, taking its first possession of the game 75 yards in six plays for a touchdown. On the drive, Michigan converted a 3rd-and-3 with a 14-yard pass to Amara Darboh, and three plays later, Gardner lofted up a deep ball for Devin Funchess. While it was in the air, it appeared to be an easy interception for the Penn State defensive back, but Funchess raced in front of him at the last minute, grabbed the ball and scored.

Michigan’s second possession, however, wasn’t as fortunate. After Penn State kicked its second field goal to pull within 7-6, Michigan started on its own 29. On 3rd-and-13, Gardner found Darboh again, this time for 21 yards. A Kyle Kalis holding penalty on the next play pushed Michigan back 10 yards, and two plays later, on 2nd-and-20, Gardner tried to lob a screen pass over the defender’s head. Instead, Penn State’s Anthony Zettel picked it off and returned it five yards to the Michigan 28. Penn State punched it in on 3rd-and-goal from the 10 when Hackenberg fired a laser to DaeSean Hamilton across the middle to take a 13-7 lead.

Michigan then put together an 11-play drive that included yet another Gardner-to-Darboh third down conversion, this time a 20-yarder on 3rd-and-11. But the drive stalled at the Penn State 28 and Michigan was forced to kick a field goal, which Matt Wile made from 45 yards out. Neither team was able to do anything the rest of the half, and Penn State took a 13-10 lead into the locker room.

The third quarter was a display of poor offense from both teams as Michigan mustered just 53 total yards and Penn State just 41 in the quarter. But Michigan created the break it needed when, on 3rd-and-4 from the Penn State 32, Jourdan Lewis intercepted Hackenberg. Michigan’s offense was unable to pick up a first down with Russell Bellomy taking the snaps after Gardner left the game with an injured foot on the previous series. Wile converted a 42-yard field goal to tie the game at 13.

Michigan started the fourth quarter with possession at the Penn State 49 after forcing a 26-yard punt. On the second play, Gardner, who returned to the game with a considerable limp, connected with Dennis Norfleet along the left sideline for 24 yards. Yet again, the drive stalled, but Wile booted a 37-yard field goal to give Michigan a 16-13 lead.

The Michigan defense held strong after Penn State crossed midfield. Penn State punted it back to Michigan with 7:04 remaining. The Wolverines took to the ground to eat up the clock. Justice Hayes rushed for five yards and then four. On 3rd-and-1, De’Veon Smith moved the chains with a seven-yard run. After two more runs by Hayes and an incomplete pass on third down, Michigan was forced to punt, but it had eaten up half of the remaining time.

Penn State was called for an illegal block on the punt return, which gave the Nittany Lions possession on their own 8-yard line, needing to drive 92 yards with 3:44 remaining. Hackenberg completed a 17-yard pass on the first play, but was sacked by Jake Ryan two plays later and was called for intentional grounding. On 3rd-and-19 from the 16, Frank Clark sacked Hackenberg at the three, forcing 4th-and-32 with less than two minutes to play. Penn State head coach James Franklin elected to snap the punt out of the end zone for a safety rather than kick it back to Michigan or try to make an impossible conversion. That made the score 18-13 Michigan.

Penn State lined up for an onside kick and converted it, but Jesse Della Valle was flagged for offside on the kick and the Nittany Lions had to retry. This time, Blake Countess covered it up and Michigan was able to run out the clock.

Michigan’s defense held Penn State to a season-low 214 total yards and Hackenberg to a season-low 160 passing yards. Hackenberg completed 21-of-32 passes for one touchdown and one interception. Michigan’s defense also recorded six sacks, the most since the first game of 2008. With sack yardage included, Penn State managed just 54 yards rushing.

Offensively, Michigan totaled just 256 yards and only 64 on the ground, but Gardner was an efficient 16-of-24 for 192 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Bellomy threw just two passes and neither was completed. Funchess caught a team-high seven passes for 69 yards and a score, while Darboh caught four for 66. Smith led the way on the ground with 24 yards on 12 carries. Jake Ryan led the defense with 10 total tackles, three for loss, and one sack. Brennen Beyer recorded two sacks, while Clark and Ben Gedeon each had one, and Mario Ojemudia and Chris Wormley had a half a sack each.

Michigan is now 3-0 in night games at Michigan Stadium. Tonight’s win was the first home night game against a Big Ten foe. At 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten, Michigan has a much-needed week off before traveling to East Lansing to face rival Michigan State (5-1, 2-0).

M&GB Staff predictions: Penn State

Friday, October 10th, 2014


StaffPicks_banner

Michigan has lost three straight games and 10 of its last 14 dating back to last year’s Penn State game. Many fans are planning a protest of kickoff and more than 150 former players are coming to town in solidarity of the current team. Can Team 135 rally around the adversity and pull off the magic that it created in the previous two Under the Lights games? Or will Penn State hand Michigan a fourth straight loss, essentially ensuring a third losing season in seven years? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn State
Justin 24 23
Sam 21 20
Derick 20 24
Josh 17 38
Joe 14 30
M&GB Average 19 27

Justin: Christian Hackenberg will get his yards like he does every week against a Michigan pass defense that made Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova look like Peyton Manning a week ago. But the Penn State offense has had trouble finding the end zone this season, instead settling for field goals. Kicker Sam Ficken has attempted more field goals than any other kicker in the conference.

Michigan’s offense will struggle to move the ball on the ground against a Penn State defense that leads the nation in opponent yard per carry (1.99), especially without Derrick Green. Penn State has allowed two of five opponents to break 100 yards and both of them barely got there. The most an individual rusher has gained against the Nittany Lions is 51 yards by Rutgers running back Paul James. So don’t expect De’Veon Smith to have a big game. It will be up to Devin Gardner to make the right decisions through the air and pull the ball down and run when there is space. Penn State is vulnerable over the middle, so look for Jake Butt to be targeted often.

Overall, I expect a fairly low-scoring affair. Penn State will win the yardage battle, but if Michigan can force them to settle for field goals, that won’t matter. Michigan will play with a spirited effort in a home game under the lights with 150-plus former players behind them for support. Michigan pulls it out by a hair.

Michigan 24 – Penn State 23

Sam:When will this nightmare end? I don’t think anyone could have predicted this football season would get this bad this fast, but here we are at 2-4 and 0-2 in conference play. Sure, Hoke may still believe that there’s a chance to add to those 42 Big Ten championships, but do his players? Does anyone?

Heading into the season, tomorrow’s Under the Lights game was supposed to be the big shebang. Now I think most Michigan fans are just hoping that prospective recruits aren’t watching. Penn State is not good…as in very bad not good. They eked out a three-point win at Rutgers (something Michigan barely failed to do) and got trounced by a Northwestern team that seemed like it was also very not good until last week they proved that they were maybe not that bad not good by beating Wisconsin at home.

Anyway, I am excited about a couple things. We all know who our quarterback is, and it seems like Michigan is starting to deploy Gardner a little bit as a running weapon, and I think De’Veon Smith and Justice Hayes should fill in for Derrick Green’s unfortunate season-ending injury nicely. I really thought the defense had top-10 (overall, not Big Ten) potential this season, but that unit has really let the team down over the past few weeks. Penn State is also coming off a bye that makes things a little more interesting.

Lastly, can we please get Devin Funchess the ball? PLEASE?!

I actually like Michigan to pull it off at home this week in a game that will only be fun because it’s close.

Michigan 21 – Penn State 20

Derick: With three straight losses to average opponents, the 2014 season has started to slip away from Brady Hoke and his 115 sons. Michigan has lost in a variety of ways during the stretch, struggling to score against Utah and Minnesota and falling apart in pass coverage against Rutgers.

The most important matchup to watch Saturday night is perhaps the most talented quarterback in the conference against one of the most underperforming cornerbacks in the conference. Christian Hackenberg has taken the reins of this Penn State offense as a sophomore, and he will likely throw toward Blake Countess all game. Countess allowed all three touchdowns against Rutgers, so his play will likely be the most important factor for the defense.

Michigan will battle hard against a night game crowd, but the PSU offense will outlast the Wolverines for a win.

Penn State 24 – Michigan 20

Josh: Well, I really don’t know what to say anymore. This team is bad, very bad. The good news is Penn State doesn’t look all that great either, although their record is much better than Michigan’s. Last week we saw some fight in this team and were it not for a catch that was ruled not a catch (and they even reviewed it!) Michigan may have pulled out a win. Alas, it was not to be. I would love to see this team come out with some fight again and I expect them to come out pumped up. It’s a night game and they’ll be sporting some hideous uniforms that shame the classic Michigan maize and blue, but I digress.

Tesm 135 will come out hyped and ready to play. Sadly, they are quite possibly the worst-coached team in the country, have a starting cornerback who is routinely beat deep (Countess gave up all 3 touchdowns last week) and face Christian Hackenberg and his rocket arm. It’ll be close for a quarter or two then the floodgates will open and then we can officially kiss a bowl game goodbye (I never thought they’d beat Michigan State or Ohio State, and I KNOW they won’t now). This will be the third losing season in the past seven years, after going 33 years without a losing season. Sad days for Michigan football and it will get worse as I expect several of the 2015 commits to jump ship with uncertainty surrounding Hoke and Co., though I’m not sure why there’d be uncertainty, the odds of Hoke keeping his job are slim to none. How many days until basketball?

Penn State 38 – Michigan 17

Joe: I am having a tough time with the predictions lately as it’s starting to get a little depressing. I wanted to focus on the running game with Derrick Green last week and that turned out to be a curse. The defense has sprung a leak and is not able to stop anyone at the key point in games. I fear that this may get even worse when Michigan faces off against a quarterback averaging over 300 yards a game in Christian Hackenberg. Granted, he has not thrown a touchdown pass in three straight games and is tossing in a few interceptions along the way, but he still scares me. He carved us up last year and unfortunately, I expect the same this week. The defense is injured and seems to have lost a lot of confidence that it had in the early going. Without a solid running game, I think the Nittany Lions offense can run and pass at will and will put pressure on Gardner to keep up from the get go. This could spell doom if the offenssive line continues to let guys waltz on through. As much as I would like to predict a big Wolverines victory, I will go with Penn State.

Penn State 30 – Michigan 14

Michigan-Penn State game preview

Friday, October 10th, 2014


Game Preview_Penn State_banner

Prior to the season most assumed that if Michigan could get by Notre Dame in South Bend in Week 2, tomorrow’s showdown with Penn State would be a huge game. In a season in which all three rivals are road games, the night game against Penn State — the first Big Ten night game in Michigan Stadium history — was supposed to be the marquee game on the home slate.

Instead, Michigan has lost three in a row, four of its last five, and 10 of its last 14 dating back to last year’s matchup with Penn State. When Michigan traveled to State College last Oct. 12, the Wolverines were 5-0, ranked 18th nationally, and Penn State was just 3-2 and coming off a 44-24 loss to Indiana. What a difference a year makes.

UM-PennState-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 7 p.m. EST – ESPN2
Rutgers Head Coach: James Franklin (1st season)
Coaching Record: 28-16 (4-1 at Penn State)
Offensive Coordinator: John Donovan (1st season)
Defensive Coordinators: Bob Shoop (1st season)
Brent Pry (1st season)
Returning Starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)
Last Season: 7-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: PSU 43 – UM 40 3OT (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 10-7
Record at Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 5-3
Current Streak: Penn State 4
Last Michigan Win: 2007 (UM 14 – PSU 9)

At this time last year, there were certainly concerns after Michigan squeaked by Akron and UConn, but the vast majority of the fan base was still on board. Now, exactly a year later, the Michigan family is fractured. After a “Fire Dave Brandon” rally on the Diag two weeks ago, some students and fans have planned a boycott of kickoff tomorrow in order to project an empty stadium on the national televised broadcast. On the other side of the coin, more than 150 former players are descending upon Ann Arbor in a show of support for the current team.

Penn State, meanwhile, started the season 4-0 before getting stomped at home by Northwestern, 29-6 two weeks ago. In that game, Northwestern’s defense held Penn State to just 266 total yards, 50 rushing, and only two field goals. Not exactly the first home Big Ten game that first-year head coach James Franklin envisioned.

Penn State opened the season with a  26-24 win over Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland on a last-second 36-yard field goal. The Nittany Lions returned to the states with a sluggish 21-3 win over Akron that wasn’t really put away until the fourth quarter, and then scored 13 unanswered second half points to hand Rutgers its first Big Ten loss, 13-10. In Week 4, Penn State got its first convincing win of the season, rolling over UMass 48-7, but UMass is 0-6 and just yielded Miami (Ohio) its first win in 22 games. So while Penn State has a better record than Michigan and beat the only common opponent so far, Rutgers, the gap between the two teams is very minimal.

Like Brady Hoke, Franklin has his own share of issues to deal with stemming from a sexual assault case at his previous stop, Vanderbilt. That Franklin had to testify again on Wednesday is surely not the kind of distraction he wanted heading into a road night game against a team fighting for its postseason life.

Michigan has lost its last four to Penn State after winning nine straight from 1997 to 2007. Last season’s meeting took four overtimes and three Brendan Gibbons missed field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime to decide the outcome. So what is in store tomorrow? Let’s take a look at the match ups.

Michigan defense vs Penn State offense: When Penn State has the ball

Offensive coordinator John Donovan has been with Franklin for a while. At Vanderbilt, he put together three of the top four offenses in program history with a school record 4,936 total yards in 2012. That was also the first season in school history in which the Commodores averaged 30 or more points per game. He still has work to do at Penn State with an offense that currently ranks 96th nationally in points per game (22.8), 72nd nationally in total offense (407.8 yards per game), 25th in passing (306.8 yards per game), 113th in rushing (101.0 yards per game), and 104th in sacks allowed (14).

Christian Hackenberg is second in the Big Ten is passing yards per game, but has just four touchdowns and six interceptions and a quarterback rating lower than Devin Gardner (Alex Goodlett, Getty Images)

Christian Hackenberg is second in the Big Ten is passing yards per game, but has just four touchdowns and six interceptions and a quarterback rating lower than Devin Gardner (Alex Goodlett, Getty Images)

He has a great piece to build around in sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg who is going through a bit of a sophomore slump so far this season, but has all the tools to be a star for years to come. After finishing third in the Big Ten with 246.2 passing yards per game last season, Hackenberg has raised that number to 295.4 through the first five games of 2014, second only to Illinois’ West Hunt. But despite the yards, Hackenberg has thrown just four touchdown passes and six interceptions. His touchdown per pass attempt ratio of 48.8 is second-worst among the conference’s top 10 passers, behind only Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian (58.7). For comparison, Devin Gardner’s ratio is 24.0. Hackenberg’s six interceptions are also the second-most among the top 10 passers, better than only Rutgers’ Gary Nova (seven). In terms of efficiency, Hackenberg ranks 10th in the Big Ten, two spots behind Gardner.

Hackenberg has been held below 200 passing yards just once through five games, but that was in the blowout of UMass when he attempted just 23 passes and the Nittany Lions rushed for 228 yards. He has eclipsed 300 yards in three of five games with a high of 454 in the opener against UCF. But his completion percentage has gone down in each game, from 68.1 to 61.1 to 56.8 to 52.2 to 48.9. In that most recent game, the loss to Northwestern, Hackenberg completed 22-of-45 passes for 216 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. His quarterback rating for the game was 84.8, lower than any game Devin Gardner has had this season.

Hackenberg has a pair of good receivers in redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton and redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis. Hamilton leads the conference in receptions per game (7.2) and ranks second in yards per game (100.4). He has caught 36 passes for 502 yards, but has yet to catch a touchdown pass. Lewis is tied for third in receptions per game with Devin Funchess (5.8) and ranks third in yards per game (99.0). He has caught 29 passes for 495 yards and one score. Tight end Jesse James is the only other pass catcher with double-digit receptions. The junior has caught 15 passes for 178 yards and leads the team with two touchdowns.

While the passing game is racking up yards, the running game is second worst in the Big Ten, ahead of only Illinois, averaging 101 yards per game, and has the worst yards per carry (3.1) in the conference. Senior running back Bill Belton hasn’t even sniffed 100 yards, his best performance being a seven carry, 76-yard, two touchdown game against UMass. He carried 10 times for 16 yards against UCF and 15 times for 36 yards against Rutgers. He is the team’s fourth-leading receiver, however, with 14 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Akeel Lynch and fifth-year senior Zach Zwinak are the other ball-carriers with 133 and 105 yards, respectively. Lynch has been much more efficient, doing so on just 18 carries (7.4 yards per carry), but Zwinak, who is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry, is tied with Belton for the team lead with three rushing touchdowns.

The starting offensive line has been the same all season with the exception of right guard against UMass when redshirt sophomore Derek Dowrey got the start instead of redshirt sophomore Brian Gaia, who moved from defensive tackle this season. The leader of the line is redshirt junior left tackle Donovan Smith, who has 25 career starts. He’s by far the most experienced member of the line. Left guard Brendan Mahon and right tackle Andrew Nelson both redshirted last season and center Angelo Mangiro is a first year starter who served as the top reserve the last two years. The group ranks 13th in the Big Ten and 104th nationally in sacks against (14), and as mentioned above, hasn’t paved the way for much of a running game at all.

Michigan offense vs Penn State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Despite a struggling offense, Penn State’s defense has been one of the best in the Big Ten and the nation so far this season. Like Donovan, co-defensive coordinators Bob Shoop and Brent Pry were with Franklin at Vanderbilt, where they guided the Commodores to Top 25 defenses all three seasons. Last season, Shoop’s defense ranked 10th nationally with 30 forced turnovers, and in 2012, it ranked 15th nationally in scoring defense. This year, the two have Penn State’s defense ranked 10th in scoring defense (14.6 points per game), ninth in total defense (288.8 yards per game), second in rush defense (60.2 yards per game), 58th in pass defense (228.6 yards per game), and eighth in red zone defense (11-17, 65 percent).

Mike Hull and the Penn State defense rank second nationally against the run (Jason Piotkin, York Daily Record)

Mike Hull and the Penn State defense rank second nationally against the run (Jason Piotkin, York Daily Record)

Much of the reason the defense is so good this season is because it’s an experienced group with only one full-time starter that has less than three years in the program, outside linebacker Brandon Bell, a true sophomore. While he has started all five games, he’s the least productive linebacker of the group with just 11 tackles, 2.5 for loss, one sack, and an interception. Fifth-year senior middle linebacker Mike Hull finished fifth in the Big Ten last season with 9.1 tackles per game in conference play and currently leads the Nittany Lions with 53 total tackles and leads the conference with 10.6 tackles per game. He also has 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. The other starting linebacker is redshirt sophomore Nyeem Wartman, who missed the Northwestern game two weeks ago with an arm injury. Still, he’s the third-leading tackler on the team with 20 tackles, and will be back in the lineup tomorrow. True sophomore Von Walker filled in for Wartman against Northwestern and finished with three tackles, while true freshman Jason Cabinda also saw his first extended time and recorded eight tackles. But that’s about it for depth.

The defensive line is a big reason Penn State has been so stout against the run, holding opponents to a Big Ten and national best 1.99 yards per carry. Redshirt junior three-tech Anthony Zettel leads the team with seven tackles for loss and three sacks and ranks fourth with 17 total tackles. The nose tackle is mammoth redshirt sophomore Austin Johnson, who at 6’4″, 313-pounds, has 15 tackles and 2.5 for loss, but more importantly, draws consistent double-teams. The ends are senior C.J. Olaniyan and redshirt junior Deion Barnes, who have a combined 29 tackles, 8.5 for loss, and four sacks.

The secondary is a group that has been around a while, led by junior cornerback Jordan Lucas, who leads the team with four pass breakups to go along with 17 tackles, one for loss, and one sack. He will likely draw the main coverage responsibilities on Devin Funchess. However, Doug Nussmeier would be smart to try to get Funchess matched up on the other corner, junior Trevor Williams, who isn’t nearly as good, although he does have two picks. Senior safety Ryan Keiser, a former walk-on, is the team’s second-leading tackler with 23 and also has an interruption and three passes defended, while fellow senior strong safety Adrian Amos has two picks and three passes defended.

Special teams: The other third

Senior kicker Sam Ficken is one of the best in the conference. He made 29-of-44 (65.9 percent) in 2012 and ’13, including a school record 15 straight, and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention last season. He began this season in dramatic fashion with a 36-yard game-winner as time expired to beat UCF, his fourth field goal of the game. He’s 10-of-12 on the season, leading the Big Ten with an average of two made field goals per game. He also has a big leg, having made a 54-yarder last season.

Redshirt freshman punter Chris Gulla averages 38.3 yards per punt, which ranks outside the top 10 in the conference. Of his 19 punts, six have been downed inside the 20, seven have been fair caught, four have gone for more than 50 yards, one has been blocked, and only one has gone into the end zone for a touchback.

The return game is average nationally, led by fifth-year senior safety Jesse Della Valle, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten with an average of 10.5 yards per punt return. True freshman kick returner Grant Haley ranks 10th in the conference with an average of 22.0 yards per return. Punt and kick return coverage is an area where Michigan could hope to take advantage of as Penn State ranks 100th nationally, allowing 12.0 yards per punt return, and 111th nationally and 12th in the Big Ten, allowing 24.7 yards per kick return.

Prediction

The first two night games in Michigan history, against Notre Dame in 2011 and 2013, both produced thrilling victories for the Wolverines, and Michigan hopes the bright lights can do the same tomorrow. The team has its back up against the wall, but will get a boost of confidence that it has been lacking from a big group of former players who will form a “welcome line” on the field for t he current team. As Howard put it, “former players told me that the ‘current players need to know we are here for them even if nobody else is.”

Last year’s matchup produced a high-scoring, four-overtime shootout, but neither team is setting the world on fire with its offense this time around. Michigan will have trouble moving the ball against Penn State’s defensive front, especially without running back Derrick Green, who is out for the season with a broken clavicle. It will be up to De’Veon Smith to carry the load, but only two opponents have topped 100 yards against Penn State so far — Rutgers with 102 yards and Northwestern with 103. Rutgers’ Paul James is the only individual running back that has topped 50 yards (51). So it will be up to Gardner to make the right decisions in the passion game. Penn State’s defense is vulnerable over the middle, so look for Gardner to hook up with Jake Butt often.

Defensively, it’s hard to see Michigan slowing down Hackenberg and the Penn State passing game, considering the Wolverines made Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova look like Peyton Manning last week. But while Hackenberg will get his yards like he has all season, Penn State has struggled putting the ball in the end zone, and Michigan will hope to force Ficken, who has attempted more field goals than anyone else in the conference, to kick often. In addition, this game provides a great opportunity for Michigan’s defensive line to have a big game, putting pressure on Hackenberg and forcing him to make mistakes.

Michigan’s offense has been pretty good in the first quarter this season, and Penn State’s inability to score touchdowns make it hard for the Nittany Lions to come back, although they did come back from a 10-point second half deficit against Rutgers. If Michigan can score a touchdown or two on its first two or three possessions, I like the Wolverines’ chances in this one. But if Michigan falls behind by halftime, it will be very hard to come back against such a strong defense. I’ll go with the Big House night game magic in this one and take a narrow Michigan win.

Michigan 24 – Penn State 23