Hoops Preview: Penn State Comment Count

Brian February 21st, 2018 at 1:00 PM


WHAT #23 Michigan (22-7) vs
#25 Penn State (19-10)
WHERE Bryce Jordan Arena
State College, PA 
LINE PSU -3 (KenPom)

Jon Crispin and a microphone is the worst Penn State combination since [REDACTED -ed]


This is the second of Michigan's three QUADRANT ONE(!) opportunities to close the regular season; winning the first one of those was enough to move Michigan up to a six seed on the previously skeptical Bracket Matrix. This one might not draw that kind of attention because PSU is struggling to get into the tourney instead of competing for a Sweet 16 seed like OSU was, but it's considerably tougher per Vegas and ranking systems. Penn State has been on a tear that has moved them into a virtual tie with Michigan on Kenpom. Since it's a road game this equates to a 38% shot at victory.

For Michigan to do that they'll have to have one of those games where they shoot well from the perimeter. Scuffling, like they've done too frequently this year, means they'll have to lock down a very hot offense. But they could do that. The matchups here are weird, what with PSU's 6'5" lead dog and Michigan's stretch five.


Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.

Pos. # Name Yr. Ht./Wt. %Min %Poss ORtg SIBMIHHAT
G 10 Tony Carr So. 6'5, 204 79 29 113 Nope
Massive usage unassisted 3 shooter hits 46% from deep. Efficiency drops off cliff inside line. Excellent A:TO.
G 33 Shep Garner Sr. 6'2, 196 77 15 115 No
Extreme Just A Shooter hitting 42% from deep. Averaging barely 1 2PA/G.
G 23 Josh Reaves Jr. 6'4, 210 61 18 127 No
Super-efficient combo shooting 61/39 and has solid A:TO. 13th in steal%.
F 11 Lamar Stevens So. 6'8, 226 81 25 103 Yes
Stretch-ish 4 creates most of his shots but hitting 51/29 for meh ORTG.
C 24 Mike Watkins So. 6'9, 270 50 20 119 Very
Clobbering C shooting 70% from floor, 6th in DREBs, 33rd in block rate.
G 4 Nazeer Bostic So. 6'4, 203 43 17 97 Yes
Ton of TOs and iffy shooting. ORTG propped up by high FT rate and conversions (77%).
G 5 Jamari Wheeler Fr. 6'1, 170 40 15 86 Yes
PG-sized dude hitting 44/15 and just 39% from line. More TOs than A.
C 3 Satchel Pierce Jr. 7'0, 255 13 21 72 Yes
Large man has great OREB rate and is terrible at all else.
C 44 Julian Moore Sr. 6'10, 248 24 10 107 Yes
Large man tries to OREB and stays out of the way otherwise. Blocks some shots.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]



get out of my dreams and into my 30% usage guy

Penn State has a bright future, four guys who rank in the top 20% in ORTG nationally... and an NIT resume they're desperately trying to repair late in the year.

PSU's policy of scheduling almost exclusively tomato cans has bit them hard. Not only did they exit their nonconference schedule with zero wins of note, but they were saddled with a loss to Rider. Their only power conference opponents in the nonconference schedule were their tournament and the conference-mandated Big Ten-ACC Challenge, and their lone win in those three games was against a historically bad Pitt outfit.

Various other wobbly losses—they're the only team Minnesota has beaten in the post-Lynch era—left them looking adrift at 13-8... and then they went to OSU for a W and ran off six of seven, including another W over the Buckeyes. Their only loss in that stretch was at MSU. Unfortunately, they just blew a shot to upset Purdue; Michigan is their last shot at an attention-getter before the conference tournament. They probably need this game and another W over the conference's four tourney-bound teams to have an argument.

They've gotten here by riding Tony Carr. Carr is a 6'5" dude with an assist rate scraping the top 100 who's hitting 46% from three, with about a third of those unassisted. He is Penn State's annual Guy Who Takes A Ton Of Bad Shots Because He Has To, and about 75% of his usage comes inside the line. If that's a free throw that's going very well (83%). If it's a shot it's usually away from the rim and not going so hot. He's hitting 40% from two. Hoop Math classifies almost half his shots as 2PJ, which get assisted 4% of the time—ie, never. He's hitting a respectable number (36%) but his rim forays are very bad (50%), so you get a guy who's efficient shooting threes and will move the D around to set up his teammates frequently, but if you can get him to drive and shoot that outcome is usually going to be good for you.

That season-long number might not be the best one to use, though. PSU's recent surge onto the bubble has directly corresponded with a Tony Carr ORTG surge. Carr averaged a dismal 93 ORTG in his first eight Big Ten games of the year. His most recent eight? 122, with two hamblastings of Ohio State in which he put up 167 and 144. The only two teams in that stretch to hold him down fairly well were MSU, Purdue, and Rutgers; the former two won. Rutgers did not because they scored 43 points in a 68 possession game. You remember Rutgers.

6'8" F Lamar Stevens is the other heavy-usage PSU player. He's another guy who takes about half his shots in no-man's land. He's very good there (41%), but no-man's land is a place where very good still isn't very good. Think Nigel Hayes. He generates most of his shots himself; in an ideal world he'd be able to shift some of his usage on to other guys but PSU has a couple of limited dudes on the court at all times. Leaving him open from deep is something you might get away with—he's at 29%.

G Josh Reaves is by far PSU's most efficient scorer. His return from suspension was a catalyst for PSU's recent run, and put some respect on that run: per Torvik PSU is the best team in the country since January 25th, a span of eight games.

Reaves hitting 61% inside the arc because, unlike everyone else on the team, he works his way to the rim and converts. He's also a 39% three point shooter. It's grim in between but vanishingly few of his shots come in between. He's the platonic opposite of the first two guys, only shooting when he has a good shot. That results in a MAAR-esque usage rate, super efficiency, and a bunch of bad shots dumped on Carr and Stevens when he can't make something happen.

Reaves is also a top-class pickpocket, ranking 13th nationally in steal rate. If they stick him on Matthews it's probably time for Matthews to have a quiet game of defense and rebounding.

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watkins is first team all mustache

C Mike Watkins is the beneficiary of a disproportionate number of PSU assists. 80% of his buckets at the rim are assisted, which is why he's hitting 81% there. He does have a solid conversion rate (47%) when pushed a little further out, but his main job on offense is to dunk it when someone draws help defense. It's unlikely that PSU tries to post him up much, and if they do, whatever.

Watkins will be a bigger factor on the other end of the floor, where his combo of block rate (9.6, 33rd nationally) and defensive rebounding (31%, 6th) is magnificent. He's probably the single biggest reason that PSU defense is in the top 20.

His presence is also a Penn State bellwether. Ace noted on the podcast that Penn State losses are highly correlated with Watkins foul trouble or otherwise limited minutes. While his foul rate isn't particularly high, Michigan might want to take it at him a bit if he does get a quick one. His backups are useless.

The final starter, G Shep Garner, is probably the most extreme Just A Shooter in the league this year, hitting 42% from deep and attempting just 34 shots inside the line this season. He will occasionally rise up in front of your face, but if he ventures inside the line it'll be a shock.

Why is this team not solidly in the tournament? Well, Penn State is a fair bit like Ohio State in that they have a very limited number of guys who can play basketball and then a cliff. Their best bench guy is a guard who has a sub-100 ORTG.

That would be Nazeer Bostick, a meh-usage gentleman who has a TO rate of 22 and shoots 48/23 from the floor. His lone statistical assets are a high FT rate and excellent results once he reaches the line. The rest of the guys are yet worse. Freshman G Jamari Wheeler has a 24 TO rate and shoots 44/15, compounding that with 39% FT shooting.

The only other two guys to crack four minutes a game are two aforementioned backup posts. C Satchel Pierce is a seven-footer who gets only 13% of PSU's shots on the floor but has a usage rate of 21 because a full third of his box score events are TOs. C Julian Moore has 10% usage and is a nonexistent defensive rebounder.

Minutes from any of these guys are a major dropoff, especially the centers.



via Bart Torvik

While Penn State and Michigan take different routes to get there, they arrive at virtually the same spot on both ends of the floor. Michigan is 46th on offense and 19th on defense (per Kenpom); Penn State is 49th and 18th. Torvik has slightly different but fundamentally similar takes.

PSU's offense is middling to good at most things except getting to the line and converting, where they are bad. They're good at threes but don't take that many.

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 1.11.02 PM

Their defense is strong thanks largely to excellent two point defense and a Michigan-esque ability to prevent threes from going up. Watkins and company combine for a top 20 block rate; Reaves and company get them to 30th in steals. Michigan is usually pretty good against teams that rely on creating turnovers, and PSU does, but the Nittany Lions are solid in just about everything and cut off outside supply.


Mo's first three. This is a team relying heavily on closeouts and rim protection to create an excellent defense. Mo Wagner can blow up those assumptions. It's best if he starts the game by doing that, because it's human nature to react to previous events. If Mo can hit a couple early threes then he drags Watkins out to the perimeter, whereupon PSU guards have to stay in front of smaller, quicker guys.

A subset of this bullet point: Mo is very annoying, and Watkins can be goaded from time to time. If Mo can get him off his game that might lead to foul trouble and the massive downgrades PSU has behind him.

How do you align defensively? I don't really know when the PG-type substance is 6'5". Simpson might be a good matchup anyway since Carr doesn't make a ton of unassisted threes. Michigan's top priority should probably be to prevent assists and let PSU drivers shoot in the midrange, so if Simpson is able to prevent D rotations by staying in front that might be fine even if Carr can shoot over him?

Activity in the vicinity of a liquid. This should be a game for Jordan Poole. He's a rise-up three point shooter whose iffy defense shouldn't matter as long as he can stay in Shep Garner's face. (Or the face of one of PSU's iffy bench players.) If he can carry over his performance from the last game that would go a long way.


PSU by 3.


Indy Pete - Go Blue

February 21st, 2018 at 1:18 PM ^

But not nearly as talented as Clark Kellogg kept repeatedly saying on Sunday (building up the team that beat OSU not once, but twice the season).  It was very much like the Kirk Herbstreit trick of very subtly building up your alma mater in a fashion that almost nobody can detect. I detect it, and I detest it.

Anyways, this is not gong to be an easy game, and the odds are not in our favor. It sure is a fantastic oportunity for us though!


February 21st, 2018 at 1:35 PM ^

PSU IS talented --- this is a team that should be able to make the Round of 32 (not really a Sweet 16 team, though). 

Problem is they don't play well together and I'm not sold on their coach (Patrick Chambers) either.  

It's a case of 1 + 1 = something less than 2.   (conversely, 1 + 1 = 3 w/ the majority of Beilien's teams)


February 21st, 2018 at 3:18 PM ^

Carr is a Philadelphia kid --- PSU barely ever gets basketball players out of Philly.  That was a good get.

That said, this is Chambers' 7th season at PSU and if they make either the NCAA/NIT (the latter is at least likely) --- it will be his FIRST trip to either tournament in those 7 years. 

That's below average even for PSU basketball.  Even Jerry Dunn --- nice guy but subpar coach IMO --- went 2-for-7 in his 7 years  (Dunn coached 8 but his 1st year was more Bruce Parkhill's team; Parkhill resigned in September - the same day Cal Ripken broke Gehrig's record - and it was rather late to do a national search for a coach).

Big Boutros

February 21st, 2018 at 1:25 PM ^

Honest question, what is Rider? That is a DI university?

I can't remember the last time I read about an American college that I have literally never heard of, let alone one in Divison I.

Wolverine In Iowa 68

February 21st, 2018 at 1:46 PM ^

Rider University is a private, coeducational and nonsectarian university located chiefly in the Lawrenceville section of Lawrence Township in Mercer County, New Jersey, United States. 


They are part of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).  The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is a collegiate athletic conference affiliated in NCAA Division I, consisting of eleven schools coming from three states of the northeastern United States: Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.

Boner Stabone

February 21st, 2018 at 1:48 PM ^

This game will come down to who wants it more.  PSU is playing for their tournament lives and more than likely will bring their "A"  game tonight in a must win situation.  The boys will have to match their intensity and then some if they want to win tonight.


February 21st, 2018 at 1:49 PM ^

PSU has been playing very good basketball for the last month or so. I saw them take down OSU in Columbus and watched them the other night at Purdue. Purdue must have hit 3 or 4 shots down the stretch that I thought were daggers, but PSU just kept at it and had a chance til the very end.

It's going to be interesting since we haven't seen them yet and they are desperate. This would actually be one of our best wins (maybe 2nd to @ MSU) of the season if we pull it off.


February 21st, 2018 at 2:31 PM ^

Unfortunately it would only be "one of our best wins" to us & Clark Kellogg. Since psu is NOT projected as a tourney team, and will likely have NO shot if they lose, how much weight would it really have in seeding decisions?


February 21st, 2018 at 2:53 PM ^

I'm not really buying this Quadrant shit either.  I do think this game is significant though.  If we win out during the regular season, we are going to go into the BIG tourney at 24-7 and 13-5 in the BIG and a Top 15 team in the nation.  Say we win two games in the BIG tourney.  26-8 and a Top 12 team? 

I don't care if this is a down BIG season or not, those are not the records nor the ranking of a 7 or 8 seed in the tournament, particularly one with proven coaching pedigree who went to the Sweet 16 last year.  In my opinion, Michigan can play themselves into a 3 or 4 seed this week based on what it would mean for their overall record and ranking alone.  (And the polls matter, they are not the be-all end-all, but they do matter).

Big Boutros

February 21st, 2018 at 2:59 PM ^

I think a 3-seed is out of reach, no? Who would we bounce from the line?

We would have to pass 10 teams to grab the last 3-seed according to Bracket Matrix. I can see us above Texas A&M or Rhode Island, but Arizona? Clemson? Tennessee? They're all top-2 teams in P5 conferences.

If we were playing two of those teams we would have a shot to pass them directly, but I don't think PSU and Maryland can send us that high.




February 21st, 2018 at 3:07 PM ^

You're probably right. Maybe if we got the the conference championship, although a third loss vs Purdue wouldn't look very good. I would think winning out would at least get us a 3, however unlikely that is.

Either way, not sure it matters a ton this year. I'm not dying to play Virginia or Villanova, but they don't seem unbeatable by any means either. I'd rather play them than Duke or play UNC again.

Whole Milk

February 21st, 2018 at 4:43 PM ^

I also think it is probably out of the question, but Arizona isn't a great example. I think they are largely living off of name recognition and the fact that the Pac 12 is down. They have a few nice wins, but losses to Colorado, Washington, SMU and UCLA at home all aren't ideal, and they don't really have an opportunity to get any more big wins.

I think it's possible to get to that level, but would certainly need help, like some of the following:

- You already mentioned Rhode Island and Texas A&M 

- Wichita St. loses to Cincy at home, and then gets upset in the tournament before getting to the rubber match.

- Kentucky loses at home to Mizzou and on the road in Gainsville.

- The Zags lose to St. Mary's in the conference final.

- Ohio State loses on the road at Indiana and gets beat by Penn State for a third time in the B1G tourney.

- UNC goes 1-2 down the stretch and has an early exit in the tourney(@ SYR, Miami, @ Duke)

These are just a few examples that are at least plausible. Say we end the year on a 5 game win streak with a couple more in the B1G tourney, giving us 4 more Q1 wins, why can't we jump up 10 spots?


February 21st, 2018 at 1:56 PM ^

This feels like the game Michigan would probably lose during this closing stretch, so I'm mentally prepared for it. PSU isn't probably as good as their KenPom number would lead you to believe, but they are solid and this is a big home game.


February 21st, 2018 at 1:56 PM ^

We haven't played all that well on the road outside of at msu and at purdue.  This is a large step up from Northwestern and Nebraska on the road, it might be the first time we are playing an equivalent team on the road this year, should be interesting to see what we've got.


February 21st, 2018 at 2:01 PM ^

This one has excruciating to the bitter end written all over it. I'd love Michigan to light it up tonight and cruise to a double digit win. Hey, if we can do it in the Trohl Center, we can do it against PSU. But I have my doubts.


February 21st, 2018 at 2:16 PM ^

Penn State is currently 76 in RPI, making it a Q2 game. A win over them pushes them lower, while a loss moves them into the top 75 and thus a Q1 game.


February 21st, 2018 at 3:03 PM ^

But Nebraska on the road is tough, and that first round game won’t guve them much. If they lose to us tonight, I’d think they would need to get to the BTT semis (since that would mean a win over OSU, Purdue, or MSU) to get back into Q1 territory.

But I’d much prefer a Q2 win than a Q1 loss, so Go Blue!