Quick Recap: The Wolverines suffered an inexplicable mental collapse in State College, falling 84-78 to Penn State, previously 0-14 in Big Ten play. Michigan led by 66-51 with over 10 minutes to play, but did not convert a field goal in the last 6 minutes and 37 seconds of the game. With the loss, Michigan has fallen out of contention for the Big Ten title, now trailing Indiana by two full games with three to play.
The Defense…Disappeared: Penn State scored 48 points in the 2nd half of tonight’s game. There is not much that can be said to justify that sort offensive output from the worst team in the Big Ten. This erased much of the progress on defense that was made in the previous matchup against Illinois. The presence of Jordan Morgan back in the starting lineup did not have much of an impact on Michigan’s ability to rebound the basketball or defend the pick-and-roll, as Penn State carved up the Wolverine defense, just like many other teams have in the past seven games.
Moving Forward? This game only illuminated many of the flaws in the Wolverines that seemed to reveal themselves throughout the tough February schedule. Most observers tended to pass off those flaws due to Michigan’s youth and the level of competition Michigan faced going up against the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana all in a two-week stretch. However tonight, it was clear that those flaws still exist. Michigan’s defense is below average. Their crunch time offense is very one-dimensional. The Wolverines rarely open basketball games with energy and urgency. And John Beilein can’t seem to find an on court combination of players that balance good offense and good defense equally.
Big Picture: Michigan can easily erase this mentally debilitating loss by beating Sparty on Sunday. For now though, Michigan has probably slid out of contention for a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament and will now need to fight just to get a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. There are still many opportunities for the Wolverines to correct their flaws and end the season on a high note. But they will have to do it against superior competition and can ill-afford any more mental lapses like tonight. We will find out a lot about the character of the players on this team and their coach on Sunday against Michigan State.