Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wrapping It All Up: Michigan @ Penn State Preview

Well, didn't I say this was going to be a close finish?  In what is going to be a crazy day for the Big Ten, there are two games left to determine the Big Ten regular season championship.  Michigan will be traveling to play Penn State and Ohio State will be traveling to East Lansing to face the Spartans.  In most scenarios, the title would be wrapped up before the final game of the season, but this year isn't exactly a normal year.  There are three teams with a shot at the title in the final day of the season.  However, virtually everything depends on the result in East Lansing.

Now, I said a few weeks ago that I didn't expect the Buckeyes to be able to go into the Breslin Center and win.  However, there is still a good chance the upset happens.  OSU is not playing its best basketball right now and has faded over the course of the season, but Michigan State has not been playing superb in the last few games either.  They've been sneaking out close wins and actually lost in their last game against Indiana by a significant margin.

I still think it's going to be a great game, but if I were Michigan fans, I would be hesitant to start celebrating a championship before the buzzer.  It should be pretty close for portions, but I think OSU has lost its swagger and is pretty beatable at this point.  I mean MSU may have lost their last game and been sneaking out wins against weaker teams, but OSU is only 3-3 in their last 6 games.  They have not been playing like they did earlier this year and their last impressive win was against Michigan on January 29th.  That's a pretty long drought seeing that we're now in March.

So, as I said, I'm not predicting a championship for the Wolverines today, simply because I don't think OSU is going to be able to convert in East Lansing.  Having said that, let's get back to the important game: Michigan @ Penn State.  Michigan is easily in the tournament this year and aside from Big Ten title hopes and better seeding, this game means little.  Penn State is one of the weakest teams in the Big Ten and has no realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament.  Having said that, they are going to be playing for a good amount when the Wolverines come into town.

Everybody knows the last few weeks of the season are always pretty crazy.  Not only are teams trying to get those crucial wins to make the tournament, but a lot of teams are trying to legitimize their seasons as well.  I'm sure everybody can remember an example of a mediocre team toppling a power just before the season ends to somehow justify that team's horrible finish.  This is what Michigan will be facing when they tip-off.

As I previewed earlier this year, Penn State has a lot of holes that Michigan should be able to exploit.  They are pretty weak in almost every statistical category and have beaten virtually nobody this season.  They are 4-14 in Big Ten play and their most impressive win is against Purdue.  Obviously, Michigan had its own trouble with Purdue recently, but they aren't exactly a Big Ten powerhouse.

The biggest factor will be Tim Frazier.  He is their leader in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, and steals.  Think about that for a second.  He leads the team in perhaps the five most important statistical categories in basketball.  Compare that to Michigan, which has 4 different team leaders in the categories listed above.  That's a pretty substantial difference.  What does it imply?  Penn State is Tim Frazier, plain and simple.  He's probably more important to his team than anyone in the Big Ten, except perhaps Draymond Green, who is virtually a lock for Big Ten Player of the Year.

If Michigan can slow down Frazier, they are going to win.  It's pretty much that simple.  Penn State doesn't really have another guy that can stay with a team like Michigan.  Now, this is a decent team that plays very hard, but when your team has one individual that has that big a contribution, it pretty much needs him performing well.  Michigan gave up 20 points to Frazier last time and if they give up a decent chunk to him this time it could hurt them.

However, something to note in the last match-up between Michigan and Penn State.  Frazier may have scored 20 points, which is above his season average of 18.8 ppg, but nobody else on the Nittany Lions scored above 10 points.  If Michigan can use this same tactic, they are still going to be in great shape.  Basically, shut down Frazier or shut down the other guys.  Frazier can carry his team pretty well, but he still needs support.  Along with this, it's pretty obvious that the other guys do not play well unless Frazier is pretty active.  A clear example of this strategy is Penn State @ Nebraska.  Frazier scored 30 points, but the Nittany Lions still lost, primarily because the other guys did almost nothing.

Bottom line, if Michigan slows down Frazier or is able to slow down his weak supporting cast, there's no reason this team shouldn't win, even though it's a season-ending road game.  I anticipate the Wolverines will come out focused with the Big Ten championship in mind and play pretty well.  Plus, it's not as if Penn State is playing very hot.  They've lost their last three games with several of them in convincing fashion.  Given this, I have to give the edge to Michigan.

My Magic Pick Is...

Michigan 68-59

Photo Credit: UMHoops

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