GAME NOTES: The red-hot Michigan Wolverines set their sights on another victory on Tuesday night, as they play host to the Penn State Nittany Lions in a Big Ten Conference duel at the Crisler Center.
The Wolverines have resurrected their season in recent weeks with wins in five straight games. Three of those triumphs came in the first trio of league outings for Michigan, which is 11-4 overall and 6-1 on its home floor. The Wolverines will have a real test next against third-ranked Wisconsin.
In contrast to Michigan, the Nittany Lions have gone ice cold of late, with losses in their first four bouts against Big Ten competition. Penn State's losing streak has ruined a promising start to the season as it is now 9-8 overall, including a 2-2 mark on the road. The Nittany Lions will also visit Purdue before returning home.
Surprisingly enough, these teams split the season series last year. However, when they met in the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines, who went on to the national title game, routed the Nittany Lions in an 83-66 final. The win was Michigan's 29th in 41 all-time meetings with Penn State.
Penn State hosted Indiana on Saturday and nearly pulled off an upset, as it fell in a 79-76 final. D.J. Newbill poured in a game-high 24 points in the losing effort, but deficits in points off turnovers (19-14) and at the free- throw line (29-20) were simply too much for the Nittany Lions to overcome.
Although they have not captured a win in league play yet, the Nittany Lions are actually the fourth-best scoring team in the Big Ten (77.4 ppg). However, they rank seventh or worse in assists (12.8 apg), rebounds (36.2 rpg) and field goal percentage (.454). Newbill (17.3 ppg) does a lot of the heavy lifting on offense, although the team is fortunate to have five players averaging in double figures. Tim Frazier (16.6 ppg, 6.5 apg) does his best as the second option, while also leading the Big Ten in assists. Ross Travis (11.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg) anchors the team down low, and Brandon Taylor (10.4 ppg) and John Johnson (10.6 ppg) add depth.
It took a last-second dagger from Derrick Walton Jr. to lift Michigan to its 71-70 win over Nebraska last Thursday. Walton Jr. finished with 10 points and four assists as all five starters scored in double figures for the Wolverines, who shot 66.7 percent from the floor in the second half to escape with the narrow win.
Michigan is scoring just a bit behind Penn State (77.1 ppg), but it has been a much more efficient offensive team, as it leads the Big Ten in field goal percentage (.481). The Wolverines also play tight defense, as they have limited their opponents to just 62.9 ppg and 42.4 percent shooting. Nik Stauskas (17.4 ppg, 3.6 apg) is the leading scorer, although he is not a very versatile offensive threat, preferring to take shots from beyond the arc rather than drive to the hoop. It is a small complaint considering he shoots 45.9 percent from 3-point range. Glenn Robinson III (13.8 ppg) and Car LeVert (11.9 ppg) are the club's next best scoring options.
The Wolverines do not often lose at the Crisler Center or against Penn State for that matter. Don't expect the Nittany Lions to buck either trend in this one.
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