Michigan Wolverines vs. Penn State Nittany Lions Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Michigan Wolverines (7-6 SU, 3-6 ATS) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (8-6 SU, 5-6-1 ATS), 7:00 p.m. EST, Thursday, January 7, 2009, Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, Pa. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of Predictem.com

Point Spread: Michigan +1.5/Penn State -1.5
Over/Under: 126.5

Two struggling Big Ten teams desperate for a conference victory take the floor on Thursday night, as the Penn State Nittany Lions host the Michigan Wolverines.

Big Blue is a team that came into the season with high expectations after reaching the NCAA tournament last season, but the Wolverines have not nearly lived up to the hype. They haven’t even won two games in a row since starting off 3-0 with wins over Northern Michigan, Houston Baptist and Creighton. They lost three straight after that to Marquette, Alabama and Boston College, and have traded wins and losses since then. The Wolverines played well in an 11-point loss at No. 1 Kansas and followed that with a 30-point victory over Coppin State. But the Wolverines opened Big Ten play with a 71-65 loss at Indiana. They bounced back at home with a 73-64 win over Ohio State on Sunday, but they really need to get a win at Penn State and avoid falling to 1-2 in conference play.

Michigan has yet to win a road game this season, standing at 0-3 with losses at Utah, Kansas and Indiana. The Wolverines’ chances of earning an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament are slim to none right now, but any hope they have starts with a win at Penn State and a very strong run in conference play.

Penn State’s only decent win this season was a 69-66 win at Virginia in a game that the Nittany Lions had a comfortable lead and nearly blew it in the final minute. They have lost games to NC Wilmington, Tulane, Temple, Virginia Tech, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions could really use a win like this for some confidence going through the Big Ten schedule. They are coming off two straight losses to begin conference play, a 75-70 loss at Minnesota and a 63-46 home loss to Wisconsin on Sunday.

When game planning for Penn State, it’s all about Talor Battle. The 6-foot junior guard is leading the team in scoring with 18.8 points per game, in rebounds with 5.7 per game, in assists with 3.6 per game, and in steals with 1.1 per game. Battle is scoring more than twice as many points as any other Penn State player and taking twice as many shots per game as any other PSU player.

The one bright spot for Michigan has been Manny Harris, who is averaging 19.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. DeShawn Sims has been solid with 16.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. The Wolverines have relied heavily this season on shooting 3-pointers. And looking at their 3-point statistics makes it easy to realize why they are struggling so much. Shooting more than 25 3-point attempts per game is not very healthy but it’s even worse when the shooters aren’t making them. Of the three Wolverines attempting the most 3-pointers on the team, Harris is shooting 28.8 percent, Zack Novak is shooting 27.3 percent, and Stu Douglass is shooting 33.8 percent. Of players making at least one 3-pointer per game, Laval Lucas-Perry’s 34.1 percent is the highest 3-point percentage on the team.

As a team, Michigan is shooting 29.6 percent from 3-point range. The Wolverines are doing a nice job in the turnover department, only giving it up 10 times per game while forcing 15 turnovers per game. But their rebounding has been very bad, as they are being out-rebounded by more than three boards per game.

Penn State is only forcing 11.4 turnovers per game, but the Nittany Lions are only turning it over 11.2 times per game, so both of these teams do a nice job of protecting the ball. The Nittany Lions are out-rebounding their opponents by more than six boards per game, so they should be able to really control the boards in this game. They are shooting 34.4 percent from 3-point range, and their 3-point defense is not very good, as they allow their opponents to shoot 36.3 percent from beyond the arc.

The home team is 8-0-1 ATS in the last nine meetings between Michigan and Penn State. The favorite is 13-3-1 ATS in the last 17 meetings between these teams. Michigan is 0-3-1 ATS in its last four games at Penn State. The under is 3-0-1 in the last four meetings overall and 3-0-1 in the last four meetings at Penn State.

Ryno’s Pick: Both of these teams really need this win. Michigan is trying to get back on the right track after getting a nice win over Ohio State. Penn State wants to avoid falling to 0-3 in Big Ten play. The Wolverines haven’t won a road game yet this season and it’s difficult to get road wins in the Big Ten. And Michigan doesn’t seem good enough yet to get a conference road win, even though the Wolverines have better talent overall than Penn State. All the Wolverines have to do is shut down Battle to win this game, but they haven’t been able to shut anyone down this season. A road team hasn’t won in this matchup in the last nine games in this series, and the underdog has only won three of the last 17. Take Penn State -1.5.