Michigan basketball coach John Beilein speaks to the media on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, in Ann Arbor.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
Michigan basketball is about to restart Big Ten play as one of four unbeaten teams left in America and a No. 2 overall ranking.
The Wolverines are 13-0 (2-0), with Penn State (7-6, 0-2) next up at 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN).
Here’s what to watch for Michigan-Penn State:
Back to business
U-M’s last five games were nowhere near as clean as its first eight. That’s not necessarily an indictment, as the Wolverines were playing out-of-this-world basketball throughout November and in the early stages of December.
Still, the Wolverines had some issues with sluggish starts and offensive flow against zones. The defense, at times, seemed to relent. Michigan got through its final four non-league games because it had more talent, but there was still plenty to clean up.
Penn State always competes on defense and seems to hang in there against John Beilein’s teams. Slow starts become more dangerous now.
Penn State doesn’t have prolific scorer Tony Carr anymore, but the Nittany Lions — as usual — make most every scoring opportunity difficult and have the ability to put players in space to simply get to the rim in downhill situations.
Pat Chambers’ teams are always tough and always compete. Josh Reaves, a senior guard, is one of Beilein’s favorite Big Ten players — at least in terms of respect. He’s not a great scorer, but he competes like crazy defensively.
That’s Penn State in a nutshell. Not an explosive team by any stretch, but a team that’s tough enough to grind its way through games and keep it close. The Nittany Lions hung in on the road with Maryland until falling off in the final minute and lost by a bucket at home against Indiana.
Michigan junior forward Charles Matthews has been very good for a game or two, then he falls off a bit. He had 21 points and seven boards against North Carolina, but followed up with 12 combined points in wins over Purdue and Northwestern.
He went for 25 and 17 points against Western Michigan and Air Force, respectively, and was 3 of 12 from the floor for seven points against Binghamton.
Big Ten play is back and U-M has to have a more consistent Matthews. Jordan Poole has been there every night for about a month. Ignas Brazdeikis has been great, too, but he’s still a true freshman — there could be a wall coming. If Michigan can lean on Matthews more moving forward, all the better.
This probably won’t be an offensive masterpiece, as both teams are top 25 in defensive efficiency and both have had fits and starts offensively. Penn State’s nowhere near as potent with the ball as Michigan, though.
And this game’s at Crisler Center. U-M gets to 14-0.
Pick: Michigan 65, Penn State 53
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.