If it’s true that winning cures all, Sunday can’t come soon enough for the Michigan men’s basketball team.
The fourth-ranked Wolverines, who are embroiled in a sense of negativity for the first time this season, have lost three of their past four games. In fact, the back-to-back losses against Wisconsin and Michigan State in the past week mark the first time Michigan has lost consecutive regular-season games since it lost six consecutive games in the middle of the 2011 season.
But this weekend, the Wolverines (8-4 Big Ten, 21-4 overall) welcome a team to the Crisler Center that knows a thing or two about mounting losses. Big Ten bottom feeder Penn State has lost each of its 11 conference games and has yet to win a game on the road this season. The Nittany Lions (0-11, 8-15) haven’t beaten a BCS conference opponent all year, and their last Big Ten win came on Feb. 16, 2012.
After Tuesday night’s embarrassing 75-52 loss at Michigan State, the Wolverines should have plenty of motivation.
“We just preached the importance of staying together,” said redshirt junior Jordan Morgan. “Things like this happen, so you can’t stay down on it. … You get all these numbers, all these rankings, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t really mean much when we step out there. Other teams don’t really care about that stuff.”
With the regular season finale less than a month away, junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr., who said Tuesday night was a reality check, found another cause to rally around.
“We’ve got to play for the guys next to us, because it’s our seniors’ last year here, and right now, we’re not playing for them these last few games,” Hardaway said.
Sunday’s game has been tabbed as the Crisler Center Rededication. In its honor, the team will wear retro jerseys, commemorating the 1968 team that played in the arena’s inaugural season. Though the white retro uniforms won’t include the belt or short shorts of the originals, a press release called the jerseys “identical.”
The athletic department has planned a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside Crisler prior to the game, and inside, the University is hoping for a “Stripe Out,” with alternating sections donning either maize or blue. (A section-by-section map of which color to wear can be found here.
Sophomore point guard Trey Burke, who struggled with foul trouble against the Spartans, should have his way against Penn State. The All-American, who once verbally committed to the Nittany Lions, averaged 16 points against Penn State last year. But last season, Burke was matched up against All-Big Ten defender Tim Frazier. Frazier was lost for the year earlier this season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Guard D.J. Newbill, who transferred to Penn State this year, leads the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game but turns the ball over nearly four times per game.
Out of 345 Division-I basketball teams, the Nittany Lions rank 343rd in assists (nine per game), 339th in field goal percentage (.381) and 316th in points per game (60.3).
Even if Sunday’s game turns into a blowout, there are two major storylines to pay attention to.
Morgan, who sprained his ankle at Illinois on Jan. 27, has yet to play more than nine minutes in a game since.
“It’s better,” Morgan said on Tuesday. “I’m pretty close (to 100 percent), I’m right there.”
Second, even though forward Glenn Robinson III’s minutes haven’t taken a hit, the forward’s production has significantly diminished. Robinson has averaged just 4.5 points in his last four games and has appeared afraid to shoot.
“All our guys need to get back to some basics … to improve their own game, and he’s not alone in that,” said Michigan coach John Beilein.