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After Tuesday's drubbing against MSU, Michigan had its first chance to rebound on Sunday against the Nittany Lions. The end result (a 79-71 win) was what Michigan fans wanted, but the process of getting the win was much less than desired. Penn State has yet to win a conference game this season and for a team like Michigan who already had 8 conference wins, expectations were high. The assumption was that Michigan was going to blow the doors off Penn State and run away with an easy home victory. Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions battled and actually led for the vast majority of the 1st half. Ultimately, Michigan took control and won the game, but for a team that had lost 3 of its last 4 games entering their matchup with penn State, this was not a great win for Michigan.
So what went wrong? Was this game a sign that Michigan is spiraling downward and has little hope when it ends its home schedule with MSU and Indiana? This game has to at least be alarming for fans. There is no reason for Penn State to be tied with Michigan at halftime. The Wolverines are just too talented of a team for that to happen without something going wrong. Penn State is certainly an improved team over where they were earlier this season. They're also well-coached and fight to the finish with any opponent regardless of ranking or talent level, but that doesn't mean Michigan should allow them to be that close. Given all of this, there's no doubt that something went wrong for Michigan to be in this close of a game with the Nittany Lions.
The big thing that's hurting this team right now is the failure to create an interior presence, especially on the defensive end. Everyone is well aware that the strength of this team is in the backcourt. Michigan is going to win the majority of its games because of those players. However, that doesn't mean it should just abandon the frontcourt. Michigan's bigs have not been outstanding this year, especially on the offensive end, but they have at least been serviceable. Unfortunately, over the last few games, they have been disappearing. Not only are they getting beat badly defensively, but also failing to rebound. They aren't boxing out and even when they do, they don't come down with it. On one play in particular, Horford rebounded in the textbook fashion, but allowed Penn State to just rip it out of his hands, effectively eliminating the gain.
Michigan doesn't necessarily need elite big men, but they at least need them to be competent on defense and rebound the ball. A few plays in particular stand out. McGary would try to hedge and go for a steal, but when he would miss, it would leave the rest of Michigan's defense in a bad position and create a lot of mismatches. This is ok once in awhile, but on a consistent basis, it creates a lot of good opportunities for opponents. Playing aggressive on defense is fine, but if you adopt that policy, you need to make it work and get some turnovers to overcome the plays where the other team gets an easier look because of the aggressive play. Right now, Michigan's bigs, and particularly McGary, are not making that strategy work and its blowing up in their face, big time.
The backcourt didn't play too bad today. Hardaway had another off game with just 8 points on 11 attempts, but Burke had 29 points and Stauskas had 18 points. This was one of the best games of Burke's career and though that's probably overshadowed by the struggles of the rest of the team, he is really excelling. His player of the year candidacy has lost a bit of its luster with Michigan's recent struggles, but in truth, Burke might be playing his best basketball of the season. If the rest of the roster can come around, this team should return to its dominance.
GR3 had a comeback game. He had 21 points on 6 attempts and was deadly in the alley-oop game. This is exactly what Michigan needs from GR3 on a consistent basis. Not necessarily for him to tear it up shooting, but for him to be able to be efficient with the ball and get some points. With the way teams are starting to defend Michigan, he could be one of the key pieces. They are trying to overload Michigan's backcourtsand the 3 point line, which is going to open up a lot of back door cuts and similar plays. GR3 has really become great at these types of plays and if he can keep it up, it should help Michigan. LeVert also had a pretty solid game on the defensive side. He didn't put up a ton of stats, but he is going to be a solid player for Michigan in the future.
This is definitely not a "panic" game. Michigan was heavily favored over Penn State and didn't win by the predicted margin, but they still won the game. There still need to be some major improvements on defense and particualry with the team's big men, but they now get a week off to prepare for Illinois, which is starting to shape up to be a big game. It will be a crucial game for Michigan considering that they need to win out to have a real shot at the conference title. Even though this wasn't as pretty as many wanted, the team at least won the game.
This post was edited by Thomas Beindit on 2/17/2013 at 9:22 PM
Basketball Analyst For BTPowerhouse & Wolverine 247 - Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tbeindit
I posted this quote in the 2012-2013 season thread but I think it belongs here as well because it puts things in perspective (after the home game against Penn)...
"We've played the 3rd hardest schedule and have the 3rd youngest team in the country. We just have to move on."
- Coach John Beilein
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