With Michigan’s close loss to Indiana, they went from an opportunity to win a share of the Big Ten regular season championship to having to play on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament. So, the Wolverines will be playing Penn State for the third time on Thursday.
For Michigan, this game could go two different ways.
It is possible that they are still hung up on the dramatic, emotional loss to Indiana from Sunday and will phone in this game. Michigan has had a few of those games this season where they start with very little energy or focus. In fact, Penn State’s first (of two) conference win was against a sleepwalking Michigan team in February.
In this scenario, they don’t play good defense, get killed on the glass and depend on Trey Burke to provide all of the offense. In their loss to Penn State, that is what happened. Penn State scored 84 points, a huge increase from their average of 61.5, and made 10-20 three pointers. Down the stretch, Michigan could not get stops, leading to the massive upset.
However, the other scenario is one in which Michigan comes out with energy, turning their anger over the Indiana loss in to motivation to destroy an inferior Penn State team. I could certainly see them running out to a big lead and blow the game wide open early on.
For Michigan to dominate, they need contributions from their freshmen. Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III have to play well and not disappear like they have in some big games this season.
Stauskas’s three point shooting has gone down every month this season (from 58 percent in November to 33 percent in March) as he has become more tentative to fire away in big games. Robinson needs a different aggression because his strength is when he takes the ball to the basket with power. He has to be in attack mode to be effective because he is so strong and such a good finisher at the rim that defenders can’t stop him when he is aggressive.
While I am not sure how Michigan will come out, one thing is for certain: Burke will play well. He has scored at least 15 points in every Big Ten game, and under 18 just three times. He is as consistent as any player in the conference and likely the country.
The truth about this game is that it doesn’t really matter how Penn State plays as long as Michigan plays well. The talent differential is so big that if Michigan plays close to as well as they did on Sunday, they will win with ease. If Michigan comes with focus, this should be a beat-down. Tournament time is here, so it is time for the Michigan team from November through January to come back out and look like a national championship contender.
You Can Follow Alex Dale on Twitter at @alexdaleCBB.