After a non-conference schedule marked with great success at Maui and some questionable play in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Wolverines are finally entering Big Ten play. They start with Penn State (8-5) tonight on Big Ten Network @ 7:30PM. There should still be tickets available, but if you plan on going to the game, make sure to buy them quickly.
For the most part, this game appears pretty one-sided. Penn State has five losses already this season, and looks like a team that will probably not only miss the NCAA Tournament, but probably the NIT Tournament as well. Not only do they have five losses, but the majority of these losses have come from some pretty questionable competition. Even when Penn State did face a legitimate opponent, Kentucky, they lost by 38 points and were completely handled at home.
Michigan should have the advantage on both sides of the court, but there is always potential for an upset and Penn State has a few young players that could have a great game tonight. It's pretty unlikely they are able to get a lot of points on Michigan's defense, but let's not forget that Michigan has been far from a perfect team this season. Turnovers and poor play in the paint have spelled trouble for the Wolverines this year and they could again tonight.
Neither team has an incredible offense, but Michigan has a sizable advantage on the offensive side of the floor. Penn State is currently averaging 64 points per game, which is significantly behind Michigan's 71.7 points per game. Granted, 7.7 points per game is not that large, but Michigan also has several more play-makers on the offensive side of the ball.
Tim Frazier averages 17.2 points per game and 7.2 assists per game for the Penn State, which is impressive, but he is the only Penn State player even close to these marks. No other player on the team averages more than 10 points a game and no player other than Frazier averages at least 2 assists per game. This is important because it shows Penn State has been forced to rely on one player for much of this season, which is never good. For instance, Michigan has three players averaging more than 10 points per game and three players averaging more than 2 assists per game. Michigan's diversified offense will have the big advantage over the Tim Frazier-driven Penn State offense.
This is another area where Michigan should have an advantage over Penn State. So far this season, Michigan has been giving up about 60.8 points per game and Penn State has been giving up about 61.7 points per game. Once again, this seems to be only a slight advantage for Michigan, but one has to look at the quality of competition. Penn State has faced some tough teams like Kentucky, but the vast majority of their schedule has been unknown teams that frankly, aren't very good.
Michigan has also faced its share of push-overs, but it also had to face some tough teams in the Maui Invitational and a tough road game against Virginia. Obviously, some of Michigan's opponents like Ferris State or Bradley aren't that great of opponents, but Michigan does appear to have a significantly tougher schedule than Penn State. Both teams have solid defense, but Michigan should have at least a slight advantage, especially with the 1-3-1 scheme.
Advantage: Lean Michigan
Both teams will be coming in with some momentum and confidence since Penn State has won its last two games and Michigan has won its last five, but the home court should help Michigan. The environment will hardly be anything like playing at a place like Duke, especially since many of the Maize Rage will be at home for Christmas break., but I expect a decent crowd since it's the Big Ten opener. However, it's still an advantage for Michigan, especially because they have been undefeated at home this season.
Fans should expect a relatively competitive gave for much of the first half, but when Penn State is forced to sit some of its players like Frazier, Michigan should be able to pull away. Frazier typically plays for almost the entire game, but he will have to hit the bench for at least a few minutes, which will be a huge problem for Penn State's offense and likely sway the momentum in Michigan's favor. Michigan will probably struggle in the paint at times as it has all season, but they should be able to win this game by a decent margin.
Final Score: Michigan 68-60
Photo Credit: Chris Dzombak