|Who: Penn State (8-4) at Michigan (10-3)|
|Where: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, MI|
|When: January 2nd, 2011, 4PM|
|Radio: MGoBlue / WTKA 1050 AM/Sirius Ch. 91|
In my post about expectations early last week I questioned how this team would react to adversity. Well, we are about to find out. Michigan will look to bounce back against Penn State after a jarring and embarrassing 23 point home loss to Purdue. The importance of winning this game becomes painfully obvious when you look ahead on the schedule: at Wisconsin, Kansas, Ohio State, at Indiana, at Northwestern, Minnesota, and at Michigan State. Lose this game and the 0-2 start could slip into the sort of dramatic losing streak that has the potential to ruin a season.
Penn State didn’t accomplish much in the non-conference portion of their schedule, going 7-4 with losses to Mississippi, Maryland, Virginia Tech, and Maine. However, they opened Big Ten play with a road win at Indiana which is arguably their best win of the season. They have Talor Battle, who is still one of the best players in the league, averaging 21 points per game thanks to shooting 39% on three point attempts. The problem for Penn State is that the Nittany Lions just don’t have enough supporting options to complement Battle’s brilliance.
Penn State didn’t have much depth to start the season but now that Taran Buie has been suspended indefinitely, they are down to a 7 man rotation. In the backcourt Battle is joined by Tim Frazier and Cammeron Woodyard, both of whom are below average offensive players. Woodyard is 6 of 31 from the field on the season and 35% of the possessions that Frazier uses result in turnovers.
Battle’s offensive support comes on the wings where 6-foot-8 Jeff Brooks and 6-foot-7 David Jackson provide an intriguing combination of size and skill. Brooks scored a career high 23 points at Indiana and averages 13 points and 8 rebounds per game. While he does most of his work slashing ot the basket (56% on twos) he also shoots 41% on threes. 6-foot-10 245 pound Andrew Jones anchors the middle, averaging 6 points and and 6 rebounds per game. 6-foot-8 freshman Billy Oliver backs him up down low and rounds out the Penn State rotation. Oliver appears to hae the green light from three point range, he has already attempted 25 threes this season but made just 7 (28%).
The trio of Battle, Brooks, and Jackson spearheads Penn State’s offense, which is more efficient than the defense. The Nittany Lions don’t turn it over often and rebound a respectable 35% of their misses, but they haven’t shot the ball particularly well this year with an effective field goal percentage of 48.1% — 47.4% on twos and 32.9% on threes.
Pomeroy rates Penn State’s defense the worst in the Big Ten and 103rd best in the country. They don’t force many turnovers but are an above average defensive rebounding team and manage to keep opponents off the line. Penn State is terrible at defending the three point line, where opponents are shooting 39.4% despite attempting over 37% of their shots from long range. Two point defense is the strength of the Nittany Lion defense as opponents are shooting just 44% inside the arc.
Conventional wisdom would be something like “stop Battle and you stop Penn State”, but the real key is stopping Jeff Brooks. In Penn State’s four losses, Brooks is averaging just 6 points per game and shooting 32% — in three of those four games he shot under 26% from the field. Battle is going to get his points but if you eliminate Brooks from the equation, there just aren’t too many other offensive options on the Penn State roster. David Jackson is the one other guy that can hurt you, routinely scoring in double figures, but the other 4 players in the PSU rotation have one double figure game between them — Billy Oliver’s 10 points versus Lehigh.
Pomeroy gives Michigan a 71% chance at victory, predicting a 63-58 win. Michigan is plummeting in the Pomeroy rankings but they are still slightly ahead of Penn State overall which, coupled with home court advantage gives Michigan the advantage on paper. Here are three predictions:
- Penn State wins if Jeff Brooks scores over 17 points, if he doesn’t Michigan takes the victory.
- Talor Battle wins the point guard match-up as Darius Morris shoots under 50% from two point range for the third straight game.
- Stu Douglass leads Michigan in scoring thanks to another solid three point shooting performance.