The fourth-ranked Michigan Wolverines are clinging to the hope that they can claim the Big Ten Conference's regular- season title, but they will need to win each of their remaining four games, and hope for a little help along the way in order to do so.
The final stretch begins on Wednesday night, as the Wolverines pay a visit to the last-place Penn State Nittany Lions, marking the second meeting between the teams in the last 10 days.
Michigan is a stellar 23-4 overall, and it owns a 10-4 league ledger. Its standing in the Big Ten has it in fourth place, but only a half game out of second, and a game and a half out of first. Two of the teams currently ahead of the Wolverines remain on the docket, as they will entertain both Michigan State and Indiana over the next 11 days. Michigan has won its last two outings, both at home, topping PSU (79-71) and Illinois (71-58).
Penn State's season has been one of total despair, at least with regard to its status in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions have lost each of their 14 conference bouts, the most recent of which being a 64-59 decision at Illinois last Thursday. PSU is currently 10 games below .500 overall (8-18), and it has won only seven of its 15 home games.
Michigan owns a 28-11 lead in the all-time series with Penn State, and the Wolverines have won the last five meetings. They have also been victorious in their last three visits to the Bryce Jordan Center.
Michigan is one of the more well-rounded teams in the country, averaging 76.0 ppg while permitting just 61.3 ppg. The squad, which boasts four double-digit scorers, is shooting a lofty 49.4 percent from the field, which includes a 39.9 percent effort from 3-point range, while also logging favorable margins in both rebounding (+5.0) and turnovers (+2.7). Trey Burke is on pace to secure both conference and national honors, as he is averaging 18.9 points and 6.9 assists per affair. He is a 49.6 percent shooter overall, who drains nearly 40 percent of his long-range tries, and he comes up with 3.1 rpg and a team-leading 39 steals as well. Tim Hardaway, Jr. (15.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, .402 3- point FG percentage) and Nik Stauskas (11.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, .457 3-point FG percentage) complete what is arguably the top backcourt trio in the nation, while Glenn Robinson III (11.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) contributes up front. Burke scored 26 points and dished out eight assists in the recent win over Illinois, and in the process became only the seventh sophomore in school history to reach 1,000 career points. Hardaway, Jr. added 13 points and seven rebounds, and Robinson III chipped in with 10 points for a Michigan team that shot 51 percent from the floor, while holding the Fighting Illini to 41.2 percent.
Penn State's primary problem is scoring, as the team averages a mere 61.2 ppg in hitting just 38.8 percent of its field goal attempts, which includes a 28.3 percent showing from beyond the arc. The team does own a positive rebounding differential (+2.0), but it is in the red in turnover margin (-1.2) and relies heavily on the play of two players -- guards D.J. Newbill (15.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.0 apg) and Jermaine Marshall (15.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg). No other Nittany Lion averages more than 6.9 ppg, and the team was once again stymied in last week's bout with Illinois, as it converted 43.8 percent of its total shots, committed 16 turnovers, and was outscored at the foul line, 23-9. The Lions did manage to record a 34-25 edge on the glass, and they drained 8-of-19 3-point attempts, all while holding the Illini to 39.5 percent field goal efficiency, which included a 29.2 percent effort from beyond the arc. Marshall led all scorers in the game with 20 points, while Sasa Borovnjak added 17 and Newbill finished with a dozen points and five assists, but committed seven turnovers.