Penn State Basketball lost a winnable game Wednesday night in Ann Arbor 79-69 falling to 11-4 (2-2).
Michigan has been a difficult team to figure out all season. The Wolverines came into the year ranked 22nd in the AP poll, but fell out after losing by 25 to a then unranked Arizona State.
The Wolverines continued to lose close games to solid programs before the inexcusable home loss to Central Michigan. Despite all that, Big Blue is undefeated in conference play with wins against Minnesota, Maryland, and Penn State Basketball. The point is that this game was certainly winnable and it will be interesting to see how much the Nittany Lions will need this win against an 8-5 team on the road later in the season.
The gap in the NET rankings pregame between these two squads was also significant with Penn State (60) and Michigan (81). Penn State is now 3-23 playing games in Ann Arbor all time.
Here’s a look at what Wednesday’s loss means for Penn State Basketball, and what’s ahead
Penn State Basketball got jumped on early in this game finding themselves down double digits a few times in the first half.
Evan Mahaffey hit an improbable half court bank shot to cut the lead to 42-34 and give some momentum going into the 2nd half.
Penn State was able to go on an 11-0 run in the 2nd half to tie the game at 47 with 15:06 to go in the game. However, Michigan responded with a 14-0 run of their own that seemingly killed momentum. During this run Nittany Lions head coach Micah Shrewsberry had a chance to call a timeout during the 8-0 run and the arena rocking and try and calm the nerves of his team but he chose to let them play on.
This was a mistake and one that many Penn State Basketball fans were critical of on social media.
What has been admirable about this team all season is their ability to fight back into games. Even giving up a 14-0 run they were down 61-47 with 11 minutes to go and weren’t out of it. Penn State was able to get the lead down to 72-69 with 2:17 to go and were a Funk three that went in and out from a tie.
While this game ended up being a 10 point loss on paper, it can be described as a game of runs in the 2nd half and ultimately the Nittany Lions just didn’t hit enough shots.
Penn State Basketball was right at its average turnover margin of 8 per game, but Michigan only had 3 on the night.
The Wolverines also shot slightly better from the field in the game and went to the free throw line 14 more times than Penn State. This can be credited to their front court advantage and is something that has been plaguing the Nittany Lions as Big Ten play started.
What is most confusing is why Caleb Dorsey is not included in the rotation.
Dorsey didn’t play a single minute against Michigan where Kebba Njie played an unproductive 20 minutes and Evan Mahaffey played 17 minutes. Dorsey started at the Center position to start the season, so it is unclear whether this is an injury or off the court issue that is preventing him from playing. Either way he is deeply missed with a front court that is already struggling for depth.
What does this mean for the NCAA Tournament?
It was determined by many experts both preseason and after the non-conference finished that the strength of the Big Ten this season should allow for a 10-10 conference slate to make the NCAA tournament.
Penn State Basketball dropped from 60th to 69th in the latest NET rankings after their 2nd quad loss of the season. While that may not seem like big, a nine-spot drop for one game is massive when you are trying to stay in the mix for the NCAA tournament.
Before the game against the Wolverines, Penn State was a part of the last 4 in as an 11 seed in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology.
What is next?
The next 3 games are against 3 of the 4 teams represented in the AP Poll with vs #1 Purdue (Palestra), vs #15 Indiana, and @ #14 Wisconsin.
The NET rankings of the next 3 opponents are Purdue (7), Indiana (18), and Wisconsin (54). So, any win during this stretch will certainly help the Nittany Lions add a quad 1 win and improve their own NET ranking.
Penn State Basketball will get its first shot against #1 Purdue on Saturday in the Palestra, in what could most likely be the best home environment of the season.
That isn’t as much about how great the Palestra is but rather how sleepy the Bryce Jordan Center is with its half-filled capacity.
The game against the Boilermakers is frightening in part of trying to figure out how a Penn State team without a competent big is going to guard Zach Edey, a 7-foot 4 Center who is averaging 21.7 points and 13.4 rebounds per game.
Penn State will need to try to spread-out Purdue and hit their threes and just hope to get the Boilermakers into a shootout. The most winnable game in this stretch however is probably against Indiana.
While the Hoosiers are talented, it is in the friendly confines of the Bryce Jordan Center. That means no travel and the players are more comfortable with their routines.
Penn State Basketball will once again have to deal with a solid Hoosier front court, but that is just going to be a constant in the Big 10. The final matchup is against Wisconsin. Now while they aren’t ranked nearly as high as the other two in terms of NET ranking, that doesn’t take into account one factor which is the Kohl Center.
Penn State simply cannot win at the Kohl center no matter what the level of team hosting or visiting. Out of all 3 games this is the one that I just chalk up as a loss. There are just weird vibes and strange things that happen at that arena and the best we can hope for is a close competitive game for morale.
If Penn State can go 1-2 in this stretch and come out of it 3-4 in conference play that would be considered a success and the season is still on track. However, don’t be surprised if last night was the start of a 4 game losing streak, and if it was, the Shrewsberry hype train may slow down a bit.