Monday, January 19, 2009

Battle for 7th Place: Michigan @ Penn State

A weekend of missed opportunities in sports, from Michigan basketball to Michigan hockey to the Eagles.  On Tuesday, Michigan (13-5, 3-3) travels to State College to take on much-improved Penn State (14-5, 3-3).

Programming Info: The game is on BTN at 9:00 et. on Tuesday night with Gus Johnson and Tim McCormick on the call.  WCBN will have a preview the game on the Tuesday DSR (5:15) and full recap on Wednesday (5:15).

Michigan-Ohio State Recap: Man, I have bad feeling Michigan is going to want to have the final 8 minutes of that game back at the end of the season.  Outside of Manny Harris and Stu Douglass, the Wolverines again struggled to find any sort of offensive production, especially from Sims and LLP. With the depth and talent of the Big Ten, you must win your conference games at home, especially a game you lead by 4 points with 7:45 to go. Now, Michigan has already dropped two and will have to steal a couple to finish at .500 (9-9).

Why Michigan Will Win: #1-Manny Harris is playing more like a 1st team all-conference player in the last few games, scoring more than 20 points in the last two games. He seems to be forcing things less and letting the offense come to him. #2-Lack of size from Penn State, Michigan has struggled most against talented 4 and 5-men from other teams. Think Tisdale, Mullens, Zoubek, Aboya, etc. Zach Novak has been a tremendous job of rebounding at the power-forward position and should keep that up against Penn State.  #3-PSU's weak resume.  While PSU is even with Michigan currently in the Big Ten standings, their RPI is more than 40 spots lower.  Their only decent non-conference win was on the road against Georgia Tech, a team that will finish at the bottom of the ACC. In conference, PSU's 3 wins are over Indiana, Northwestern and a Purdue team playing without 2 of its starters: Hummel and Kramer.

Why Michigan Will Lose: #1-DeShawn Sims has been MIA the last 2 games. After shooting 3-14 at Illinois, Sims was just 4 of 13 versus Ohio State.  Add to his offensive struggles the dominating performances of Tisdale and Mullens and I think its safe to say that DeShawn's NBA draft stock has taken quite a hit.  Again, as I have said often, Sims has played well and been a primary focus of the offense in Michigan's key wins (Duke, Illinois and Northeastern). Sims must play better on both ends of the floor if the Wolverines want to be competitive.      #2-Playing on the road, the Wolverines have played in 3 true road road games this year and lost each, really only playing for 20 minutes.  Michigan played a solid 1st half at Illinois and Maryland, along with terrific 2nd half at Indiana, but were nowhere to be found in the other half of the game. #3-Talor Battle, the 2nd leading scorer in the Big Ten (18.6 ppg) scored 28pts and 13rbs against Michigan last year. Michigan has struggled more with opposing big-men this year than guards, but still need to make sure their 1-3-1 zone extends out to cover Battle, a very good 3-point shooter.

"Super Six": Michigan is in the midst of an important 6-game stretch in the Big Ten and has not started well (0-2).  Before the Illinois game last week, I thought Michigan needed to get 3 wins and now they will be lucky to win 2.  With 3 road games in the next 4, Michigan must beat Northwestern at home on Saturday night and hope to win at Penn State and/or Ohio State.  I would be shocked if Michigan could win on the road in West Lafayette.  In a week that saw Minnesota win at Wisconsin and Illinois nearly win in East Lansing, the top six teams in the Big Ten have shown they can win on the road, something Michigan is yet to display.  I can pretty confidently say that the Big Ten will get 6 teams into the NCAA tournament, but the question remains of whether they will take a 7th (either Michigan or Penn State). With only Iowa and Northwestern remaining as easier road games heading forward, the Penn State game is as close to a "must win" as you are going to get in January.

Prediction: Michigan is facing as much adversity as they have all season to this point, coming off two straight defeats.  While every road game in the Big Ten this year will be difficult, I think the Wolverines will steal a huge one in State College and begin to right the ship. 

Michigan 67 Penn State 62

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