I'm sitting in the Crisler Center having just watched a thoroughly entertaining Michigan win, in which they would've covered the KenPom spread if not for a meaningless* late layup by Tim Frazier, and I really have no idea what to take from it.
Michigan's offense was stellar, racking up 1.39 points per possession with 18 assists on 28 baskets; Penn State tried a soft 1-2-2 press for large swaths of the game and Michigan tore it apart with beautiful ball movement. The Wolverines turned nine Nittany Lion turnovers into 16 points, played well in transition, and continued to pick apart halfcourt defenses with the pick-and-roll.
However, they also gave up 1.13 points per trip to a Penn State squad averaging just 0.98 in their first four Big Ten contests. In the first half, Frazier repeatedly jetted Michigan's guards, scoring 11 points in the first 20 minutes. In the second half, it was DJ Newbill's turn, as he scored 16 of his 17 points while also generating most of his offense off the dribble. While the Wolverines found more success against the pick-and-roll than they did against Nebraska, their transition defense remained porous, and one way or another opposing guards continued to find their way to relatively easy layups.
Michigan never trailed. They also let a 14-point first-half lead evaporate into just a two-point edge before a Jordan Morgan baby hook ended an extended 18-6 Penn State run. The Nittany Lions would come within a basket of the lead twice more before the Wolverines pulled away. Then again, the Wolverines did pull away, and in style—a spectacular halfcourt lob from Caris LeVert to Glenn Robinson III capped a quick 9-0 run with 12 minutes to play, and they cruised to the finish from there.
The game started with eight unanswered points by Derrick Walton, who sandwiched a pair of confident corner threes around a nice fast break finish. Walton scored 12 points in the first half en route to a career-high 16 on 6/9 shooting. However, he also finished with three turnovers—one of which was sloppy enough to earn a quick hook from John Beilein—and he was one of Frazier's primary victims defensively. He's made huge strides during the season, which was apparent tonight. He's not all the way there yet, obviously.
Nik Stauskas led the team with 21 points, making 7/12 FGs and 4/5 FTs, while also hauling in six rebounds and dishing out a five assists with no turnovers. His deft passing off the pick-and-roll allowed Jon Horford to score 11 points on 4/5 shooting and Jordan Morgan eight on a perfect 3/3 mark from the field; Horford chipped in a team-high seven boards. Again, however, there was a defensive downside—Stauskas defended Newbill for much of the second half and was clearly worn out trying to guard PSU's hot hand while carrying much of the offensive load.
Robinson shook off an 0/5 start from the field to finish with 15 points on 5/8 shooting, and he sparked Michigan's second-half run by jumping a Frazier pass and quickly finding LeVert, who split the PSU defense right down the middle and got the friendly roll for an and-one. For his part, LeVert dropped five dimes on an otherwise quiet offensive night for him (6 points, 2/6 FG); like his guard counterparts, he struggled on the other end of the floor, as much with his off-ball defense as on-ball.
In the end, Michigan played like they've done for much of the year, pairing excellent offense with far too much poor execution on defense. Against Penn State, that was enough to essentially cover the spread. Against the next three teams on the docket—Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan State—that won't be enough to come away unscathed. After Indiana's triumph over the Badgers this evening, Michigan sits tied atop the Big Ten with their in-state rivals; how long they stay there depends on how much they improve at preventing their opponent from carving a path to the hoop.