At this time of year, it is easy for freshman basketball players to get worn down by the rigors of the conference season. Hours of travel, watching film and battling with some of the nation”s best players can wear on a young player mentally and physically.

For the Michigan men”s basketball team which starts two freshmen in its backcourt and goes just eight men deep the risk of fatigue is even greater.

Our freshmen “are learning under high-profile, high-pressure situations,” Michigan coach Brian Ellerbe said. “It”s not like they are playing against moderate talent They are freshmen having to play heavy minutes, and that”s hard for any freshman.”

Bernard Robinson averages 29 minutes a game and Avery Queen averages 27.2, second and fourth most, respectively, among Big Ten freshmen.

Combine those minutes with a 3-6 Big Ten record (9-11 overall) and two straight home losses and they could start to take their toll on the freshmen.

“It”s tough because we play a game against one good player, and then we have to play the next game against an even better player,” Robinson said.

Ellerbe is not the only coach in the Big Ten who has to worry about players getting worn out. Penn State (3-6, 13-7), which hosts the Wolverines tonight at the Bryce Jordan Center, has just six players on its roster who average over 10 minutes a game.

Against teams like Michigan State or Illinois, that can use as many as 10 players without a significant drop-off in talent, it is extremely difficult for Ellerbe or Penn State coach Jerry Dunn”s players to compete.

“I think depth is a problem for them,” Ellerbe said. “Penn State is like us. They are playing high-caliber teams. High-caliber teams have seven, eight, nine, 10 guys who really contribute, and the depth factor is a key for Jerry”s team.”

Like Michigan with sophomore LaVell Blanchard, the Nittany Lions run their offense through one player and try to give him as many opportunities to score as possible. That player is Big Ten leading scorer Joe Crispin, who averages 20.8 points per game.

With long-range bombers like Titus Ivory, Crispin and his brother John, the center of Penn State”s offense is the 3-point shot. The Nittany Lions have attempted 461 3-pointers, second in the Big Ten to Northwestern, and made 169, the most in the conference.

“It goes without saying that you have to focus on their perimeter,” Ellerbe said. ” They have the ability to make shots over and over, so they are never out of the basketball game.”

The game has major implications in the standings, as it is the only meeting between the two teams who are currently tied with Minnesota for eighth in the Big Ten. For Michigan to make the postseason, it needs to win its last four home games and one of its three road games.

“We try and go out and win every game, but we think this is a must, must win against Penn State,” Queen said. “We really need this one out of any of them.”

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