|#4 Michigan (22-4, 9-4)||32||47||79|
|Penn State (21-4, 10-2)||32||39||71|
On a day Michigan fans celebrated the history of the basketball program with former stars like Cazzie Russell, Glenn Rice, and Phil Hubbard in the house for the re-dedication of the refurbished Crisler Center, this year’s team slogged its way to an eight-point victory over the still winless-in-the-Big-Ten Penn State Nittany Lions.
Sunday seemed to be the perfect day to welcome back past players as athletic director Dave Brandon cut the ribbon on his crown masterpiece of a basketball facility, but for 30 minutes or so, the Wolverines seemed tired, off, and perhaps lacking effort before finally pulling out a win to end their first losing streak since the end of last season. Penn State has been downright awful in coach Pat Chambers’ second year leading the program, and despite great effort over the past couple games, the Lions simply lack the talent, size, and athleticism to compete in the Big Ten, much less against the cream of the conference. And despite Chambers’ constant bickering with the officials over the 25 fouls called on his players, they once again came up short in the talent department on the court.
With Penn State’s last win coming nearly two months ago at the end of December, the Nittany Lions are running out of time to tally a victory in the new year; a win today would have been huge, but Trey Burke simply would not let it happen.
As fans and players alike welcomed back past heroes with open arms, Michigan’s current All-American point guard set the stage to state his case for his own jersey number to be retired years down the line. Trey Burke has been the unquestioned best floor general in the country, and he continues to prove his worth, this time with a 29-point (9-of-16 FG, 3-of-4 3p., 8-of-9 FT), five-assist, zero-turnover gem as his point guard counterpart, Tim Frazier, could do nothing but watch from Penn State’s bench. Interestingly enough, Burke himself would be at Penn State today if not for a change of heart his last couple years in high school. It’s hard to imagine them still being winless in the Big Ten if that were the case today.
It was pretty clear throughout Sunday afternoon’s contest that no one from Happy Valley would be able to check Burke on the offensive end of the court, but Penn State also had its hands full with freshman running mate Glenn Robinson III.
Robinson, who emerged early this year as one of the premier freshmen in the country with eye-popping athleticism and a knack for always finding the ball around the rim despite his very quiet nature on the floor, has been in a well-publicized struggle throughout Michigan’s last four games, three of which ended as road losses. Today, he finally came around again, providing countless sparks for the laid back afternoon crowd to erupt as he threw down five “He just did that?!” throwdowns on his way to 21 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting mark from the field and 9-of-11 mark from the free throw line. He also managed to grab 10 rebounds to record his second career double-double.
In Michigan’s most difficult stretch of the year, a four-game gauntlet that included three road games at top-25 teams and one top-15 home matchup, Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. were the only two Michigan players that seemed to belong on the same court as the competition. Robinson III, who was rolling beforehand, hit the wall hardest, tallying just 18 points in those four games on a horrendous 7-of-24 mark from the field. Today, Robinson III found his game again and got back in his groove by getting behind and jumping above the defense; his teammates found him time and time again.
Joining Robinson III’s comeback effort was fellow freshman Nik Stauskas, who struggled himself to a lesser extent over the same difficult series of games. His three-point stroke continues to regress to the mean, but Stauskas manages to find offense through other routes as commentators continue to pen him as “not just a shooter”. Today the Canadian scored 18 points on nine shots as he made all three of his two-point attempts and got to the line at a solid rate with his penetrating ability.
Michigan fans at this point can only hope that today’s performances ended the cold shooting spells of Michigan’s two offensive-minded freshmen, but the worries do not end there. Burke, Robinson III, and Stauskas combined for a far-too-many 68 of Michigan’s 79 points. The rest of the team was notably absent from the scoring column, including star junior wing Hardaway, Jr., whose eight points don’t look so good knowing that it took him 11 shots to get there. After that, only two more Wolverines combined to score three points.
Perhaps most concerning of all for John Beilein is the play he got from big men Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Max Bielfeldt. That foursome combined to score zero (yes, zero) points on five shots and only grabbed seven rebounds total in 47 minutes of playing time. The biggest worry for Michigan was not the relatively small winning margin, as the outcome was hardly in doubt for such a lop-sided matchup, but rather the fact that Penn State was able to grab 36 percent of their own misses and 77.4 percent of Michigan’s clankers. One of the Wolverines’ biggest strengths all year has been in their ability to compete on the boards and turn rebounds into points; being out-rebounded by a smaller, less athletic team at home is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.
If Michigan is to compete for a second consecutive Big Ten championship, or at least another share of the title, today’s effort will need to be improved upon. There were plenty of good signs throughout, especially from the aforementioned freshmen scoring wings, but the big men and Tim Hardaway especially need to find their game over the remaining five games.
Still sitting two full games out of first place in the Big Ten, Michigan will probably have to win out to achieve their preseason goal of a Big Ten title. With everybody on their games, the Wolverines have the firepower to do that. If anyone is not playing up to par, however, games against Michigan State and Indiana are going to be difficult to pull out, even in the friendly confines of the christened Crisler Center.
Today’s back-and-forth game with Penn State didn’t do much to convince critics that Michigan has what it takes. But that doesn’t matter now. All that counts are two letters: Ws and Ls. Five more of the former and Michigan is right back in the thick of things. Today was a start.
|Final Game Stats|
|01||Glenn Robinson III*||6-6||0-0||9-11||3||7||10||3||21||0||1||0||0||33|
|10||Tim Hardaway Jr.*||3-11||1-6||1-4||0||2||2||3||8||1||0||1||0||30|