After Saturday’s 61-52 win over Wisconsin, Michigan (22-2, 11-2 Big Ten) moved up one spot in the AP Top 25 poll to number 6. 6th is also the seed that the NCAA had Michigan listed at during Saturday’s early bracket reveal show with five weeks until Selection Sunday. The Wolverines head out on the road to face Penn State (8-15, 1-11 Big Ten) Tuesday night in State College. Despite the Nittany Lions record and current position at last in the conference, head coach John Beilein is very leery of facing Penn State for a second time this season.
“We gotta take what we did in the final fifteen minutes of probably both halves (vs Wisconsin) and try and do forty minutes. We’re gonna need all forty to beat Penn State,” Beilein said at his press conference Monday afternoon.
The coach’s assessment of PSU being more dangerous than its record would suggest is accurate. The Nittany Lions are 1-8 since their 68-55 loss to Michigan on January 3, but their five most recent losses have all come by single digits.
“They are really tight with everybody, I mean everybody,” said Beilein. “I don’t know if anybody is playing better than Purdue right now, they had a chance to win that, they had a chance to win at Iowa, had a chance to win at Ohio State. They’re really playing well, the record doesn’t show it. We are really gonna have our hands full.”
In the teams first meeting, Michigan’s frontcourt had its hands full with Penn State forward Lamar Stevens (17 points, 10 rebounds in 40 minutes played) and Mike Watkins, who performed well off the bench with a team-high 19 points and 12 rebounds. Iggy Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole paced Michigan with 16 and 17 points respectively, Brazdeikis also pulled down 11 rebounds for a double-double. The Wolverines will seek a return to form from their dynamite freshman after he struggled vs Wisconsin for the second time this season. It is unlikely Brazdeikis will shoot 1 for 9 vs Penn State, and Beilein said he saw some promising looks from him despite the shots not falling.
“They were much better at guarding our action where we try to get him open than some other teams have,” Beilein said regarding Brazdeikis’ struggle on Saturday. “They are so sound defensively, they don’t make some of the mistakes other teams have.” When asked if there is anything Beilein is specifically working on with Brazdeikis, he took a very lighthearted route. “I hope we play dumber teams in the future. I am trying to get every guy to play to his strengths, but I am way overpaid if I am not trying to do things to get open, but I am not telling you (the media) because if I tell you, I am telling Pat Chambers.” Michigan will clearly return to trying to feed Brazdeikis in Happy Valley Tuesday night, and past non-Wisconsin matchups suggest it should work.
Jon Teske, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds against the Badgers for his third double-double of the season is looking forward to a chance to collect another road win as Michigan chases the Big Ten championship. He was asked if Tuesday night’s trip to Happy Valley was being viewed as a trap game by the Wolverine locker room.
“I don’t necessarily believe that. Either after the big game or if there is a big game coming up, you just gotta focus on this game,” said Teske. “Penn State is a very good team, going into their place, it’s a tough place to play, last year we only won by three or four points (Michigan won 72-63 on Feb. 21, 2018) and they were playing at an elite level last year so we need to be ready to play hard, smart and be ready to execute the gameplan.”
As Michigan enters the final seven games of the regular season, there are plenty of difficult matchups ahead, but wins against the likes of Penn State, Minnesota and Nebraska will make life a little easier as Michigan seeks its first Big Ten regular season title in five years. Beilein hopes that similar to the past two years, the Wolverines can find a new gear in February that will slingshot them to a good run in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament.
“I hope we can do what we have been doing the last couple years because it really could be a good year if we can do that,” Beilein said regarding his team finding a new level down the stretch. “That’s the focus in practice right now is to try and find some holes in everybody’s game that we are trying to improve a little bit, and then strengthen the areas we think are strong right now. If we continue to improve, we got a chance to be in that championship hunt for the Big Ten.”
No. 6 Michigan and Penn State square off Tuesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, PA. The game tips off at 8:30 EST and will be broadcast on Big Ten Network. Be sure to follow @ByJaySarkar and @WolverineLounge on Twitter for in-game updates and more.