Michigan 79, Penn State 71

Submitted by Ace on February 17th, 2013 at 3:02 PM

Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

Michigan looked fresh, resplendent in their 1968 throwback uniforms, several players with Fab Five-inspired fade haircuts. Crisler Center hadn't looked better as the Wolverines took the court in front of a who's-who of former Michigan greats in town for the building's rededication.

Then began the game, an expected blowout win over a hapless Penn State squad, and they didn't look fresh at all.

The Nittany Lions scored more points than they've had in all but two of their conference games, consistently finding gaping holes in Michigan's defense. While it never felt like the Wolverines were in serious danger of losing, neither did it feel like they were in serious danger of playing at their best.

Trey Burke was the only Wolverine who appeared to be playing with full force from the opening tip—no other Michigan player hit a shot from the field until over 11 minutes elapsed. Burke finished with a season-high 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting while doling out five assists with zero turnovers.

While it's expected that Burke will excel every game, Glenn Robinson III's performance this afternoon was a welcome sight after he'd been a non-factor in the last four games. Robinson tied a career high with 21 points (6-6 FG, 9-11 FT), attacking the basket with an array of dunks and adding 10 rebounds for his second career double-double.

Michigan also got an offensive boost from Nik Stauskas, who overcame a 2-for-6 day from beyond the arc by getting to the bucket, hitting all three of his two-pointers and all six of his free throws en route to 18 points. On the other end of the court, though, Stauskas failed to bring the same intensity, and he was repeatedly the culprit when Penn State got an open lane to the hoop.


Stauskas wasn't the only offender, and it was that poor perimeter defense that led to a 32-32 tie at halftime; Penn State shot 50% inside the arc in the first half, and Michigan ceded an uncharacteristic ten free throw attempts.  Even as the Wolverines slowly pulled away in the second half, the same problems remained, which is how they allowed a team averaging 0.86 points per possession in Big Ten play to put up 1.06 points per trip this afternoon.

The Wolverines lacked much in the way of secondary scoring. Tim Hardaway Jr. continued to struggle from the field, grinding out eight points on just 3-of-11 shooting. The next-highest scorer was Matt Vogrich with two points, and the three centers—Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary, and Jon Horford—combined for zero points on five shots.

Morgan started for the first time in four games but is clearly still working his way back from an ankle injury—he played just seven minutes, with Horford taking his spot at the start of the second half. Vogrich, meanwhile, got his first meaningful minutes since non-conference play, but after he allowed two open Penn State three-pointers it was clear he's not the solution to Michigan's defensive woes.

The game wasn't all bad. Robinson dazzled the crowd with a series of impressive finishes, including one off an out-of-nowhere no-look pass from McGary. Burke played like he does, which is to say he dominated, hitting several unlikely looks. Stauskas found a way to produce even when his outside shot abandoned him.

Against a Penn State team that's now 0-13 in the Big Ten, however, it's hard to feel good about a few bright spots. The defensive effort Michigan put forth would result in a loss against any other team in the conference; their next opponent, Illinois, would be overjoyed to face the same level of resistance next Sunday.

It was a win, sure, and a much-needed one at that. If Michigan wants to claw their way back into contention for the regular-season title, though, they'll need to fix some glaring issues, and fast.



February 17th, 2013 at 3:26 PM ^

When a 6'-6" guy gets 10 rebounds for PSU in 38 minutes while two 6'-10" guys get a grand total of 2 between them in 36 minutes for Michigan, soft in the middle looks like an understatement, at least for this game.


February 17th, 2013 at 3:26 PM ^

good, young team in a solid conference. Age isn't an excuse and PSU isn't good - which results in an ugly 8-point win.

This group must regroup and re-energize before March. We'll go far if we're hot but we're not good enough to play poorly and win.


February 18th, 2013 at 10:47 AM ^

The NCAA tourney should have 12-16 teams that can realistically win it all if someone catches a little fire and luck.

Indiana might be the closest simply because Oladipo, Zeller and Hulz have enough experience to play thru rough times - but they are certainly not dominant.

I can't recall a year with so many top 10 teams getting blown out by conference foes. 20+ point losses are happening every week.


February 17th, 2013 at 3:49 PM ^

to excuse or justify playing poorly on either end of the court, but that doesn't explain why our younger players have struggled with consistency.

Either they're simply not as talented as widely assumed, or our coaching isn't as good as advertised, or young players are going to struggle with consistency, regardless of program. The exceptions of the Fab Five and last year's Kentucky team are just that: exceptions.



February 17th, 2013 at 4:03 PM ^

The Fab 5 were 11-7 in the Big Ten their freshmen year, and finished tied for third. We're 9-4 this year and in third. The Big Ten is probably a tougher conference this year, but it's hard to compare eras. I think there was a fair amount of struggling with the Fab 5. The advantage that this year's squad has over the Fab 5 is PG play. Our recent struggles make me appreciate last year's team even more.


February 17th, 2013 at 4:26 PM ^

Don't forget that we beat OSU in the Elite Eight that year.  And Indiana made the Final Four as well.  If we get moved into a different region, it's not impossible to think that the conference would've had three teams in the Final Four.  Both MSU and Iowa lost to the other teams that did make it to the Final Four.  The difference so far between this year and the Fab 5 freshman year is that we haven't lost to any non-tourney teams/bubble teams.  I think that speaks to how well they have performed overall.  


February 17th, 2013 at 8:39 PM ^

Those five freshmen had Talley, Voskuil, Riley and Pelinka as their older class help, not Burke, Hardaway, and Morgan (who is probably comparable). These freshmen are important, but they're not the main players on the team. As someone on Duke (I think) said "At Duke freshmen carry bags; at Michigan they carry teams." (Or North Carolina. I can never remember.)


February 17th, 2013 at 9:00 PM ^

Our recent struggles make me appreciate last year's team even more.

Let's not forget, last year's team went 13-5 in league play. It had its share of rough outings (including an awful game at home on Senior Day). This year's team still has a chance to exceed that record.


February 18th, 2013 at 10:39 AM ^

are just not as talented as the hype indicated.

It's a very good collection of good players, but they are not a bunch of 1st round picks. GRIII has the physical tools but seems to lack the attack mode necessary to impose his will. Stauskas has been a nice surprise and deadly shooter at times. I think the big hole is a defensive enforcer to cover up our shaky on-ball defense. McGary is close but not quite established - it took Withey at KU 3 years to figure it out.

The other key factor is Beilein's style - he does not instill an attitude of combativeness or physicality. That's not a pejorative statement as Calipari and Boeheim are the same way, but it shapes the team's response to B1G officiating and rough games. Hopefully our style works better in the NCAA tourney.


February 17th, 2013 at 3:44 PM ^

I think they needed to just get through this game and feel a bit better about themselves.  Now they can work out the kinks in practice with one game in eleven days.  I think people forget that this is still an extremely young team and a lot of critical practice time was lost in that brutal two week stretch.  They'll be a lot better in two weeks than what they are right now.


February 17th, 2013 at 4:16 PM ^

While today was uninspiring given the who's who of the pregame festivities, the reality is that that stuff doesn't mean a whole lot to players once the ball is jumped. These are still 18-20 year old kids who just came of a gruelling 10 day stretch that had them play 4 of the best teams in the conference and 3 of the best teams in  the nation. They struggled and it showed. They had a few days off to try and muster up the energy to play a team that sucks and is winless in conference play, mentally they weren't ready, luckily their talent let them prevail. I suspect going forward we will see a rejuvinated GRIII and a much better effort and intensity defensively. It is difficult to remember how young they are when they have played much older at times.


February 17th, 2013 at 4:39 PM ^

There was a lot of pretty silly talk about his relative value early on, but we're getting killed without him in the middle on D. (Some of the people who were talking sh*t need to fess up.) And not only that, but he was contributing 10-11 points on offense many nights for TWO YEARS before this. Mitch is in a slump almost as big as GRIII's right now, and for this team to really hum we need to make opposing Ds guard us everywhere on the floor. 

I still think we can be okay, but a lot will depend--IMO--on how we do with the Illini next Sunday. 


February 17th, 2013 at 5:55 PM ^

There was an equal amount of silly talk about Stu last year, their best on-ball defender and possibly best communicator on the defensive end.  JB and Burke have said that Morgan is that communicator this season and his absence is really hurting them.  There were plays today where they'd go 25 seconds of good defense before collapsing and giving up an easy drive.  They are late on their rotations or in some cases, not rotating at all.  

When a team plays good defense it's almost like they are on a string and right now the freshmen just aren't there.  Burke and Hardaway might be adequate defenders but they count on help and when that's Robinson, McGary and Stauskas, 3 freshmen, they are in trouble.



True Blue Grit

February 17th, 2013 at 4:25 PM ^

this season and largely contributed to "only" an 8 point win.  Among other problems, all of them seem to have trouble holding onto the ball.  Whether it's passes from teammates or trying to grab rebounds, they're not getting it done.  Other teams are clearly exploiting this weakness by going after us in the paint.  The coaches have their work cut out for them to try and correct this problem - and fast.  Otherwise, I don't see us having a chance to win the Big Ten.  Morgan needs to get back to 100% quickly.  That would definitely help.


February 17th, 2013 at 4:43 PM ^

I see this game a different way.  To me, PSU played the game of their lives and still lost.  They hit a lot of shots with hands in their faces, while off-balance, etc.  This is exactly the way teams pull off upsets in the NCAA Tournament, but Michigan's talent and patience eventually won out.  

Sometimes, you just have to give the other team credit for playing well.  I think this is one of those times.  I'm just glad that Michigan overcame one of those "magical days" for the underdog and still won.


February 17th, 2013 at 4:56 PM ^

It seems like everyone is having the game of their lives against us these days. OSU played out of their minds against us and so did MSU. There seems to be a trend here. The reason why teams are playing so well against us is because our defense is bad--plain and simple. Teams seem to play their best games offensively against us because we can't guard the perimeter, we let people freely drive down the lane all day, and we don't contest shots very well, giving players open looks again and again.


February 18th, 2013 at 9:11 AM ^

The best post in this thread, I'm sick of people saying, "they played the best they've played all year" like it is some freak thing, when the reason for it is because our defense is horrible. Whether its because Morgan is gone or not, right now, we are going to struggle to win the remaining games on our schedule.


February 17th, 2013 at 4:43 PM ^

If Smote had stuck around. He had his issues, sure. But I think we might be better able to contend in the B1G if Smote were starting at 4 with either GRIII or Nik coming off the bench.


February 17th, 2013 at 9:37 PM ^

Smote played soft at times and apparently did not have the best attitude but he was a big body that could score and he would have provided experience depth which is sorely lacking on this team.

Unfortunately he decided to bail rather than tough it out. We might be better off down the road but I can't help but think he would have had an impact


February 17th, 2013 at 5:52 PM ^

           The bigs seem way too eager to switch (rather than quickly flash out) on perimeter picks.  Give how prevalent it is, I figure they must be coached to do that.  The coaches must think we are so bad at fighting through screens that this is a better option.  Which points to terrible, terrible, terrible perimeter defense.  Part of the reason we never foul is because we play very passive on the outside.  Nobody crowds ballhandlers or shooters.


February 17th, 2013 at 7:41 PM ^

I was suprised that Penn State's shooting percentage wasn't higher by the end, but despite that it felt like they made a ton of huge baskets. Some were drives to hoop, open jumpers or put backs that reflected defensive/rebounding lapses, but others were taken with guys in their face.  They were incredibly aggresive under the boards, and a number of deflections/rebounds seemed to end up in their hands.

My point is not to deny that we played poorly -- especially inside -- but to remind everyone that even bad teams have some ability and sometimes get hot.  I don't have the basketball knowledge to evaluate which shots were poorly defended vs. just great strokes (outside of the most obvious examples), but would note that there appeared to be a lot of the latter.

Blue boy johnson

February 17th, 2013 at 8:14 PM ^

Much like THJ in his frosh season, I think we will see GRIII in an increased ball handling role the rest of the season. Early in the game, M ran a little action with GRIII curling to the foul line to get the ball, haven't seen much of that this season, then in the second half Robinson was often involved in getting the ball on the move, and aggressively probing the D. I love it, I love it
I liked th 5 minute look with Vogrich on the floor. With Vogrich doing his thing in the corner, it freed up GRIII to take a more active role in the offense, and Robinson responded well. Too bad Robinson got called for the charge while Vogrich was burying a Three

French West Indian

February 18th, 2013 at 8:48 AM ^

Keep in mind that for the freshmen this is also likely the first time they have ever really lived away from home.  They are dealing with classes & midterms like any other normal student  (I distinctly remember winter sucking ass in Ann Arbor during my first year).

And that recent stretch of four games would have been a struggle even for the most veteran of teams.  Shit can happen fast when you're at the top and it's clear that the kids need a break to catch their breath & refocus.  Personally, I think we'll see a very re-invigorated team come out of this little break and that they will finish strong.


February 17th, 2013 at 9:08 PM ^

It was poor defense.  I can't remember if it was transition or just looked like it.  Vogrich had to stay under the basket and guard it as someone was there.  He can't be expected to guard 2 guys.


February 17th, 2013 at 9:42 PM ^

At the beginning of the year they thought Hardaway, Stauskas, & GR III would go pro. Do we still think GR III, Stauskas, & Hardoway go pro? With the recent slumps. Do they seem like they can hold up in the NBA? Just wanted to see what the board thought


February 18th, 2013 at 2:09 AM ^

Eessh the interior D was pretty bad. I was surprised they kept doubling the ball handler on picks. Didn't seem like it helped much and just left them out of position. I am also surprised they didn't just throw in a bit of zone to see if that would take away some of the interior drives and easy buckets. This week will be great to regroup and work on some new offensive sets since most teams are taking away some things with the pick and roll. Practice won't hurt at this point.

Good to see OSU got blown out in Wisconsin. It was encouraging to see since UM should have won that game. I was pretty frustrated with this game but if you think about their season overall. C'mon they lost the 4 games I thought they would and even had a chance to win won of them. 3 needs for them - play with more energy in the 1st half, improve interior D (maybe work on the zone?) and work on some new offensive sets to get the bigs involved more (more movement off the ball with more pics would be great.)


February 18th, 2013 at 10:48 AM ^

I think zone's even harder to play well if you have inexperienced players (or if you dont play it exclusively ala Syracuse) than man to man. You really have to have all five players reacting in the same way for it to be effective. And it would probably hurt our rebounding even more. I think it's worthwhile to throw in some zone as a change of pace, but extensive zone is not going to solve our defensive issues, which have mainly to do with lateral quickness and irresponsibility to assignments.

French West Indian

February 18th, 2013 at 8:54 AM ^

So nobody is commenting on the story of the game?  The uniforms!  I was beginning to think that was all we cared about around here.

And for the record, I thought the throwbacks looked sweet.  I could easily live with those as the permanent style.  They probably rank as my second favorites all-time, slightly behind the classic Fab 5 look.