As long as we can avoid being Penn State's Illinois (the team that they beat out of nowhere), I'll be happy! Go Blue tonight!
Preview: Penn State
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Penn State|
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||8 pm Eastern, Tuesday|
|LINE||Michigan -14 (KenPom)|
Right: The return of point guard Tim Frazier has helped Penn State go from terrible to, well, slightly better than terrible.
Tonight's game against Penn State affords Michigan a chance at a relatively easy home victory before the Wolverines face a brutal three-game stretch (@Wisconsin, Iowa, @MSU). While the Nittany Lions have improved from last season, when they finished 2-16 in conference play, they're currently 0-4 in the Big Ten and rank behind even an anemic Northwestern squad on KenPom. While it's early yet for a must-win game, a loss here would be a blight on Michigan's resume come tournament time.
Point guard Tim Frazier is back for a fifth year after a ruptured Achilles tendon cost him all but four games in 2012-13, and he's currently playing the most efficient basketball of his career now that DJ Newbill is shouldering a big chunk of the scoring load. Frazier's minutes played, usage rate, and assist rate are still very high—especially the assist rate, which ranks 15th nationally—while he's above 50% on two-pointers for the first time in his career and getting to the line (where he shoots 80%) more frequently than ever before. While his three-point percentage (33%) isn't stellar, that's in large part due to his role as the go-to ballhandler in late-clock situations—only five of his 14 makes have been assisted, per hoop-math. In both halfcourt and transition, Frazier makes the PSU offense go; in addition to being second on the team in scoring (16.6 ppg) he's tallied more than half of the team's total assists.
Many of those go to Newbill, a 6'4" junior swingman whose efficiency has also seen a significant uptick this year en route to his team-leading 17.3 scoring average. After struggling with his shooting and turnovers as a shoot-first point guard last year, his shooting slash line is up to a very impressive 52/42/73 (2P/3P/FT) and he's nearly halved his turnovers. Newbill has been very inconsistent in Big Ten play, however: 19-point and 25-point outbursts against MSU and Indiana, respectively, bookend a seven-point (2/8 FG) game against Illinois and a goose egg versus Minnesota in which he recorded three turnovers and fouled out.
6'7" forward Brandon Taylor earned starts in the first 14 games this season, but in each of the last two contests—and, if the game notes are true, this will continue—he's come off the bench in favor of 6'3" freshman guard Geno Thorpe, presumably in an effort to get more size among the reserves. Thorpe is a very low-usage slasher who generates most of his points at the rim and on the free-throw line. Taylor provides excellent shot-blocking and solid defensive rebounding while finishing very well at the basket on the other end; unfortunately, he settles far too often for his jumper, which is failing him both inside the arc (27.6%, per hoop-math) and outside (29.8% on over half his shot attempts). Taylor's minutes have dropped in each of PSU's four Big Ten games, bottoming out at 15 against Indiana, when he shot 0/7 from three while making his lone two-point attempt.
6'6" forward Ross Travis has shifted to the four in the starting lineup with Taylor relegated to the bench. He's the team's best rebounder on both ends and can stretch the floor, shooting 9/26 from three so far this year, though the vast majority of his attempts occur within the arc, where he shoots just 48%. The nominal center is 6'9", 210-pound sophomore Donovan Jack, who'd be the ideal Beilein stretch four if he could stay on the court; in a very low-usage role, Jack shoots 57% from two and 47% from three with very few turnovers and a top-50 block rate on defense. However, he doesn't rebound well for his position and he commits seven fouls per 40 minutes, limiting his playing time to just under half the available minutes.
Penn State's bench got a boost from two mid-year transfers in 6'1" guard John Johnson and seven-foot center Jordan Dickerson, though Pat Chambers is working them into the rotation slowly. Johnson is shooting well in a very limited role off the bench; he also has a 3.7% assist rate and a 21.1% turnover rate while boasting a very high shot percentage, suggesting he's an offensive black hole. Dickerson has played between six and 15 minutes in his five games for the Nittany Lions; in that span, he's recorded one field goal, three turnovers, six blocks, seven rebounds, and nine fouls. 6'3" senior guard Allen Roberts, a three-point specialist who isn't hitting his threes (17/59 this season) missed the Indiana game due to a "family matter"; if he's available—the game notes don't say either way—he plays right around 20 minutes per game.
Penn State is 9-8 (0-4 Big Ten) with their best win coming in Brooklyn against #66 St. John's, a six-point overtime triumph. They defeated #79 La Salle by the same margin at home (no overtime necessary) and otherwise haven't beaten an opponent ranked in the top 200. The Nittany Lions managed to hang close at home against Minnesota and Indiana, and they even led at halftime when hosting Michigan State only to get blown out in the second half. In their lone conference road game, however, they were obliterated by 20 points at Illinois.
Now that we're partway into conference play, I'll start posting four factors charts for all the games and Big Ten games only, with sample size issues obviously coming into play on the latter for a while.
Four factors, total (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||51.4 (90)||15.1 (23)||28.8 (260)||42.2 (143)|
|Defense||47.2 (94)||15.6 (318)||30.2 (119)||46.1 (268)|
Conference-only (four games, Big Ten ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||43.0 (10)||17.8 (8)||29.1 (7)||44.6 (5)|
|Defense||45.7 (3)||17.4 (6)||40.3 (12)||50.6 (10)|
As you can see, the harsh realities of Big Ten play have greatly affected Penn State's ability to make shots and stop opponents from rebounding their misses. PSU assist rate has plummeted, as have their shooting percentages across the board. On the other end, they've done a very good job defending two-point shots—largely due to the B1G's second-best block rate—but they allow a lot of three-point attempts that opponents make at an above-average rate, which has been an issue all season. They also can't haul in a defensive rebound and have become very hack-happy on their own end of the floor.
Play at their pace. Penn State looks to get out in transition often, playing at the third-highest pace in the Big Ten. Frazier and Newbill, especially, generate a lot of their offense on the fast break. However, running a lot doesn't necessarily mean you have a good transition team—check out this chart from UMHoops that compares percentage of attempts generated in transition and transition eFG% [click to embiggen]:
The Nittany Lions are actually the second-worst team in the conference at converting in transition, while Michigan is the most efficient, albeit on far fewer attempts than MSU and Iowa. If Penn State wants to turn this into a track meet, Michigan should happily oblige.
Crash the boards. In that vein, Michigan shouldn't worry too much about getting all their players back on defense following every shot—given PSU's rebounding woes of late, the Morgan/Horford duo and Glenn Robinson III should look to crash the offensive glass at every opportunity. Second-chance points will be available, especially since Michigan should be relatively perimeter-oriented when accounting for the chasm between Penn State's interior and perimeter defense.
Force PSU to shoot jumpers. Penn State's offense is highly predicated on Frazier and Newbill attacking the basket. Meanwhile, they were just an average three-point shooting team in non-conference play and are hitting just 30.5% from distance in four Big Ten games. Michigan had a lot of trouble staying in front of Nebraska's guards in their last game thanks to some piss-poor pick-and-roll defense; they'll have to be much better in that regard to keep PSU's guards from putting up serious points.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 14
Revenge game for me. Living in PA the only b-ball game I went to last year was our lose at PSU. Drove there in the snow optimistic, drove home in the snow w/ 3 PSU fans and they were acting like they just clinched the B10 title. M doesn't play in State College this year so after 4 OT's in football and having to listen to these PA fans chirp ever since I just would like a little ammunition to throw back at them. I guess an early January game that means next to nothing to most fans means a lot to me. Go Blue! Kick the ever loving sheet out of them.
Tells me that PSU is better than their record/rankings. I think while they will only win 3-4 big ten games, one of those will be a BIG upset
Penn State is 105th on KenPom, Northwestern is 156th. Might want to correct that. PSU is quite a bit better.