Michigan is off to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament for a date with Wisconsin after an 83-66 win over Penn State in the first round. The Wolverines’ struggles this season with the Nittany Lions continued in the first half, as they led by just two at halftime, but they pulled away in the second half for an easy win. Five UM players scored in double figures, led by Trey Burke with 21.
Here are three thoughts from courtside:
- Mitch McGary is going to be special: Big men typically take longer to develop as freshmen than guards to, so it’s no surprise that Mitch McGary wasn’t the most “fab” of Michigan’s star freshmen in the early going. However, over the past month, McGary has shown vast improvements and has arguably been the Wolverines’ best young player over that time span. McGary continued that dominance in the first half on Thursday afternoon, posting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 13 minutes of action. He had just one more rebound and no points in the second half, but the game broke open quickly and he wasn’t needed. McGary’s improvement is a great sign for a Michigan frontcourt that will need someone to step up next year. He’ll be helpful in this year’s UM postseason run, but next year is when he’ll ultimately be able to become a star, rather than just a role player. He has all the tools for stardom — he’s aggressive on the boards and has a great knack for the basket on second-chance opportunities — and as he gains experience, he’ll become even more of a threat.
- A good tune-up for Michigan: It’s kind of hard to believe that just a month ago, Michigan was the #1 team in the nation. Now, the Wolverines couldn’t even get a bye on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament. John Beilein’s team has struggled through a number of tough losses this season, none tougher than last Sunday’s home loss to Illinois, when a bad roll on the rim cost them a big win and a higher seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That can really mess with your psyche. In a way, Thursday’s result at United Center was the perfect one for the Wolverines as they enter postseason play. It offered some adversity — Penn State began the game up 14-3 — but once things settled down, it helped the Wolverines build their confidence. They were effective from beyond the arc and got the ball inside, the latter of which they’ve struggled to do down the stretch. Friday’s game against Wisconsin will be a much bigger test, but Thursday’s game against Michigan couldn’t have gone much better for Beilein and company.
- Penn State’s future is bright: Penn State just might be the best 2-16 conference team in history. Being the best at being the worst isn’t exactly encouraging in itself, but the Nittany Lions are vastly improved since the beginning of the year, and that’s without first team All-Big Ten point guard Tim Frazier. They own recent wins against Michigan and Northwestern and also nearly took down Wisconsin and Iowa. They’re starting to get more confident, and next year could be the year they put it all together. Penn State could potentially have the best backcourt in the Big Ten in 2013-14. Frazier will be back, along with D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall, who are both much better now than they were in January. The frontcourt, which has been a weakness all season, has started to improve. Forward Ross Travis has really started to come into his own, and he posted 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Wolverines. Four of those rebounds came in the early going, when he was arguably the best player on the floor for a stretch. As the pieces start to come together and players continue to improve, look out for Pat Chambers’ squad. Things are definitely looking up, even coming off a year with just two conference wins.