Shocked. Frustrated. Confused. Upset. Deflated. These are all words that could describe the feeling of Michigan basketball fans this evening.
In the ultimate trap game scenario, the fourth-ranked Wolverines (23-5, 10-5 B1G) went down to a motivated Penn State team (9-18, 1-14 B1G) in Happy Valley on Senior Night by a score of 84-78.
As motivated as PSU was, Michigan was the exact opposite. For a team that watched Indiana lose last night, putting the Wolverines in control of their own destiny as far as Big Ten Championship chances go, one would assume the guys would have been fired up and roared out of the gates. For a decent amount of time in the second half, they were able to do just that, leading by as much as 15 at one point.
Then, as it has much too often lately, John Beilein’s team completely lost focus. Defensively, the breakdowns were staggering. Penn State went on a 33-12 run to end the game. I’ve said since the Ohio State loss in January that this team’s downfall is it’s perimeter defense. They allowed the Nittany Lions to hit 10 threes tonight, which is completely unacceptable.
Michigan is not physical and they do not rebound well at all, something that is a trademark of many teams in the Big Ten. A jump shooting team that doesn’t crash the boards will get bounced early every time in the NCAA Tournament.
The biggest misconception about physicality is that it’s an athletic attribute. That could not be any more wrong. Physical play is a mindset. To be a physical basketball player is to chase down every loose ball and be conscious of what happens on the defensive end of the floor. When Michigan has been at their absolute best this year, their defense is what created their offense. The Wolverines love to run-and-gun, and that is directly tied in to rebounding and forcing quick shot attempts.
The flow of the offense is a big problem right now as well. There is WAY too much talent on this team for the kind of breakdowns on that end of the floor that we have seen lately. What I see right now is a group of guys more focused on their NBA Draft stock than winning the Big Ten, or even a National Championship.
God bless Trey Burke. Night in and night out, he brings his best effort the floor and should be the only guy that even CONSIDERS leaving for the NBA after this year. It’s getting to the point where guys just stand around on offense and wait for Burke to make plays.
The sky is the limit for this team, and I’m done using youth as an excuse. Kentucky won the National Title last year with a team led by freshman. While those guys may have been more talented than some players on the Wolverines, they brought an intensity and focus to the floor that no team in the nation could match. It’s sort of an apples and oranges comparison, but I digress. Say what you will about John Calipari, but you have to be able to manage and motivate talent. I have immense respect for what Beilein has done to bring back the basketball program at Michigan, but his teams are never ready to play in big games and take care of business when the chips are down.
Did the Woverines peak too early? I don’t know the answer to that yet, but it’s certainly trending that way. If this is the team that enters the NCAA Tournament, expect them to be eliminated early, but if they can get back to basics and play team basketball, they have as good as shot as anyone to make a deep run in March.
The fortitude of the Wolverines will be tested again come Sunday, where they will meet the ninth-ranked Michigan State Spartans at home. We all know what happened last time. Michigan never even competed in that game and were dismantled before a national primetime audience. It will take their best effort to knock off Tom Izzo’s team on Sunday, who has struggled a bit of late themselves. Both teams should be ready to roll when tip-off rolls around.
The game is at 4pm on CBS.