When Penn State faces No. 4 Michigan for a noon Sunday matinee in Crisler Arena, one team will be looking to continue its solid play, while the other will be trying to put its recent stretch in the rearview.
The order might surprise you.
The Wolverines have lost three of their last four games and are fresh off a 75-52 drubbing in East Lansing against No. 8 Michigan State.
The disappointing performance even prompted a Twitter apology from junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. to the Michigan faithful.
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“Would like to apologize to our fans, alum, U of M, and all of wolverine nation for the performance displayed last night,” Hardaway tweeted Wednesday. “Will not happen again.”
The previous week, Michigan, the team that started the season with 16 consecutive wins, gave one away in Wisconsin. The Badgers’ Ben Brust drained a game tying 3-pointer from just inside half court as time expired in regulation. Wisconsin won in overtime 65-62, beginning the Wolverines’ current two-game slide.
“There’s part of it that has to stick with them and part of it is we have to embrace the reality of life at this level,” Wolverines’ coach John Beilein told media in Ann Arbor this week.
The Wolverines (21-4, 8-4 Big Ten) are a talented, but young team that’s led in scoring by a sophomore, a junior and two freshmen.
“It’s reality,” Beilein continued. “There’s bumps in the road It’s part of getting better. And that was a big bump, but we just (have to) move on.”
Trey Burke, a sophomore who committed to Penn State before heading to Ann Arbor, leads the team in scoring and is second in the conference with 18.6 points per game. The Player of the Year candidate also leads the Big Ten in assists with 6.5 per game.
Hardaway Jr. averages 15.1 points, while freshmen Nik Stauskas (12.0) and Glenn Robinson III (10.9) round out the team’s top scorers. The Wolverines’ four losses have all come on the road where they have seen their offense shrivel, averaging just 60 points in road losses.
The Wolverines return home Sunday where they are undefeated this season and averaging nearly 80 points per game. They’re beating opponents by an average of 22.9 points at home.
While Beilein will implore his national-title-contending team to regroup , Nittany Lion coach Patrick Chambers is hoping his team can seize on its best 40-minute performance in conference play.
Penn State (8-16, 0-12 Big Ten) nearly shocked Iowa at home on Thursday, but dropped its 12th-consecutive game 74-72.
D.J. Newbill led the way with 26 points, eight rebounds and a career-best three 3-pointers. His 16.7 points per game are now third in conference scoring behind Burke and Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas (20.7). In his last eight games, Newbill is averaging 18.9 points, 4.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds.
The Nittany Lions also got a career night from Jermaine Marshall who dished out 10 assists to go with his 14 points. The redshirt junior worked the pick-and-roll exquistiely with senior Sasa Borovnjak, hitting the 6-foot-9 Serbian in rhythm several times. Borovnjak’s 14 points against the Hawkeyes gave Penn State three players in double figures for the first time in conference play.
They even shot 44 percent from the field and as a team accumulated 17 assists to just six turnovers.
“We have to take some good things out of (Thursday night),” Chambers said Friday at his weekly teleconference. “And we will and that’s what we need to do to compete.”
Chambers said it was nice to be in a game late and that even though his team lost, the experience could help in the long run.
Though the Lions are coming off a good showing, playing on the road against what will be a highly motivated Michigan team will be a monumental task.
“When they’re scoring they’re really difficult to defend,” Chambers said of the Wolverines. “It’s almost like pick your poison because they have so many weapons.”
Chambers is familiar with Beilein and his coaching tactics. Chambers played at Philadelphia University while the current Michigan coach was in charge at LeMoyne. The two also faced while Chambers was an assistant at Villanova and Beilein was head coach at West Virginia.
Penn State will travel to Illinois next week for an 8:15 p.m. contest with the Illini on the Big Ten Network. Four of the team’s last six games of the season will come on the road.
“We have to take it one game at a time,” Chambers said. “We’re a youthful team, so we have to keep the right mindset and the right approach for the next for today, let’s just put it that way.”