|WHAT||#5 Michigan (13-0) vs
#49 Penn State (7-6)
Ann Arbor, MI
|LINE||Michigan –11 (Kenpom)|
A month of mildly alarming games against teams in the triple digits on Kenpom comes to an end, and the Great Conference Slog begins anew. This year's Big Ten looks poised to send more than half its membership to the NCAA tournament. Michigan is projected atop it by any analytics site you choose to poke, but there aren't many easy outs in the league this year.
Michigan eases back in, relatively, with a six-game stretch in which they've got a 77% or better chance to win each game aside from a trip to the Trohl Center. After that: buckle up. Ten of Michigan's final twelve games are "A" tier—signifying a top 50 opponent, adjusted for location.
A home game against Penn State is first up. Are you ready? (Oonts oonts oonts oonts.)
THE LINEUP CARD
We're experimenting with FFFF style lineup pages. Click for big.
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.
|G||13||Rasir Bolton||Fr.||6'2, 180||69||25||106||No|
|#206 composite FR. Not Just A Shooter who's 44% from deep and worse inside line, but does get to free throw line. Not a point guard.|
|G||2||Myles Dread||Fr.||6'4, 215||68||15||110||Meh|
|#164 composite FR. Just A Shooter hitting 34%.|
|G||44||Josh Reaves||Sr.||6'5, 214||82||20||99||No|
|Pesky defender is top 20 in steals last three years but has suffered greatly attempting to take on more responsibility this yea. TO rate spike.|
|F||11||Lamar Stevens||Jr.||6'8 230||88||30||98||Probably?|
|Finesse 4 takes a ton of off the dribble jumpers. Ill-suited to be a go-to guy but here we are. 18% on threes this year; 32% last year.|
|C||24||Mike Watkins||Jr.||6'9, 254||57*||21||97||Yes|
|All Big Ten Defensive Team C is rebound machine with last year's #29 block rate. Missed first 5 games with Issues.|
|C||21||John Harrar||So.||6'9, 243||36*||13||110||Yes|
|Generic Backup C, except he doesn't do much shot altering. OREB hound.|
|G||5||Jamari Wheeler||So.||6'1 170||51||13||94||Yes|
|Handsy D pest commits a ton of fouls and can't shoot.|
|G||0||Myreon Jones||Fr.||6'3, 170||34||22||85||Yes|
|Composite #180 FR. Takes a ton of shots when he's on the court and is hitting 31/29.|
|F||35||Trent Buttrick||So.||6'8 234||24||12||124||No|
|Heh. (Just A Shooter.)|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Penn State is the 10th-ranked Big Ten team in Kenpom; they're also in the top 50. Welcome (back) to 2019 Big Ten basketball. Even the squirrels have knives.
The Nittany Lions are one of the few teams in the conference that has basically no shot at an NCAA bid as conference play resumes. They lost at DePaul in their Gavitt Game and took an ugly 59-56 loss to Bradley in their tournament; they've also dropped 11 and 9 point games to NC State and Alabama, respectively. PSU's first two conference games were narrow losses at Maryland and at home against Indiana.
Also they're the 1 in Kenpom #7 Virginia Tech's 12-1 record. Squirrels: knives.
Watkins is Don Brown's partner in the gritty 70s crime drama they star in
Penn State hangs its hat on its top-25 defense, and that starts with center and amazing mustache-haver Mike Watkins. Michigan fans didn't get to see much of him last year, as he went out for the season with a knee injury just five minutes into Michigan's only game against the Nittany Lions. When not doing that Watkins was vacuuming up rebounds at a top ten rate, blocking a bunch of shots, and hitting 69% percent of his twos.
Watkins recovered from his injury but then missed Penn State's first five games after some offseason incidents and a public disclosure of mental health issues. Since his return he's been fairly good but has seen regressions in most of his non-rebounding stats. He may be battling rust and his brain still.
Watkins doesn't have much of a post game but he's got good hands and is excellent rolling to the basket. 80% of his shots at the rim are assisted; 82% of them went down last year. The lack of Tony Carr and PSU's failure to replace him with anything resembling a point guard has seen his two-point shooting drop to exactly 50%. He's suffered more than most from PSU's lack of a creator. He's still a defensive force.
Penn State's other defensive ace is Josh Reaves, a 6'5" guard who was a bit of a fave-rave amongst the degenerates who paid a lot of attention to the lower tiers of the Big Ten last year. Reaves has been in the top 20 in steal rate since his sophomore year, paired that with 56/38 shooting a year ago, and had a decent assist to turnover ratio.
Unfortunately for Penn State, they've been forced to thrust a near-perfect college three-and-D guy into a bigger role than he can handle. His usage has barely ticked up but the post-Carr offense has put Reaves in a more prominent spot. Some of this ends up in dribbles that go nowhere and have to be reset, which dumps more usage on other folks. The rest of it goes to turnovers. Reaves's TO rate has shot up from 15 (okay) to 25 (club me with a spoon so I can die).
You can see the regression in Reaves's on-off splits. Last year PSU was at exactly 1 PPP when he was off the floor and at 1.14 when he was on; this year his presence makes no difference. This isn't about Reaves himself, except insofar as he's the kind of guy who has a limited ability to generate shots.
Stevens (#11) is a jump shooter [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Speaking of a lack of a true go-to-guy: stretch-ish 4 Lamar Stevens. Stevens has always been a good-at-bad-shots kind of gent who takes a lot of face-up midrange jumpers. Think former Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes. Stevens is taking a ton of unassisted Other Twos—55% of his shots, 70% of the makes unassisted—and while he's hitting just 38% in that midrange he's being forced into taking many of the really bad shots PSU's lack of creation dumps on whoever the old dude is. He's a decent to good bailout option; too many of PSU's possessions end in that bailout. He's got 30% usage and an ORTG under 100. QED.
Stevens has been abysmal from three (18%) so far and was at 32% last year. He's been unlucky but given the prevalence of bad shots he's forced into his true shooting talent in this context is definitely below 30%.
Stevens doesn't provide much oomph on D, FWIW.
PSU's backcourt starters are both freshmen. Neither are point guards at this stage. Rasir Bolton is in the Not Just A Shooter Range where about half of his attempts are from behind the line, where he's hitting 44% on high volume. As you can see above, he has that Steph Curry kind of release where the ball gets out lightning fast.
The rest of his offensive forays are split between free throws, which he's getting a lot of and hitting 88%, and shots on which he doesn't get fouled. These are bad. Bolton's creating all of them himself, so that's a thing, but he's a year or two away from being that infuriating Penn State guard who's a fringe NBA player.
Classmate Myles Dread may have the best name in the Big Ten. Early in his career he's a low usage Just A Shooter hitting 34%.
PSU doesn't have much of a bench. John Harrar is a generic backup C who's good at OREBs and nothing else. Guards Myreon Jones and Jamari Wheeler both have sub-100 ORTGs; Jones eats up 28% of PSU's shots when he's on the floor and is shooting 31/29. Yikes. Wheeler's a bit better but is a 6'1 guy shooting 40% from the line and 21% from two. Keep him away from the basket and he'll cough up turnovers and bad other twos.
Finally, Trent Buttrick has recovered from what must have been a hellish middle school experience to be a D-I basketball player. He's a near-invisible Just A Shooter stretch four.
Penn State's offense is grim: in the 200s in all three varieties of shooting, very susceptible to steals, and bad at getting to the line. The relative bright spot is offensive rebounding and even that is just kinda good (74th), not clobbering like a couple of teams Michigan has held down. It all adds up to Kenpom's #118 O.
PSU tries to combat their half-court inefficiencies with a lot of transition. 22% of their shots come in the first ten seconds of the shot clock and there's 14-point eFG gap between those transition opportunities (59%) and their halfcourt (45%).
Penn State's 24th on D thanks to a ton of turnovers forced—17th in steal rate—and excellent defensive rebounding. They're not great at preventing shots from going in but do a pretty good job at covering three point line.
PSU is pretty pretty bad at preventing folks from getting to the rim, 297th. That's the sacrifice they're making in order to hold down opponent three point attempts.
Funnel usage to Stevens. Michigan's defense excels at forcing Other Twos, and Stevens has taken more Other Twos than any other Big Ten player. He's hitting those at 37%; Michigan will be very happy to live with that. If he's taking contested midrange jumpers Penn State's going to struggle to keep up.
Live in Bolton's shirt. He's got deep range and a super-quick release; a Bolton three is by far Penn State's best offensive option. Once he ventures inside the arc his conversion percentage actually drops and he'll boot the ball away some.
Drive closeouts. PSU will be leaping at shooters and trying to recover; this could be a big game for Iggy and/or Matthews.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 11.