On Tuesday night in Ann Arbor, Penn State dropped a 80-67 decision to Michigan and fell to 0-5 in the Big Ten. Once again, Penn State was able to hang with a superior opponent before running out of gas near the end of the game. Once again, the team's defense fell apart during a key stretch in the second half.
At least Tim Frazier didn't foul out and was able to play the end of the game. Here's three more things that were surprising (and another three that weren't) about the most Penn State defeat:
Things that were surprising
Brandon Taylor saw his playing time decrease even more. Over the first two weeks of conference play, Taylor has seen his role shrink from regular starter to seldom-used dust collector. In the Big Ten opener, Taylor played 31 minutes and scored 18 points against Michigan State. Since then, his minutes have dropped with each game played until he logged just six minutes against Michigan. A lot of that has to do with Taylor not making his shots. In non-conference play, Taylor was hitting a high percentage of his jumpers and being a solid contributor, but in his past four games, he's 6-for-26. On Tuesday night, he air-balled his first jumper and Pat Chambers had apparently seen enough, banishing him for the rest of the night.
Donovon Jack actually looked like a physical presence in the paint. The 6'9" sophomore is averaging just 3.4 rebounds per game this season, but versus Michigan, he looked like the physical paint presence that Penn State needs him to be with six rebounds (four on offense) in just 21 minutes. Jack looked great on offense as well by scoring six of PSU's first eight points and banking in a three-pointer for good measure. These are all good signs, because the Lions need someone besides Ross Travis to be able to score inside and compete for rebounds with large Big Ten lineups like Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Penn State only turned the ball over nine times. PSU has not been terrible when it comes to turnovers this season, but this stat is surprising because the Lions turned the ball over four times on their first four trips down the floor. To only see five turnovers for the rest of the evening against Michigan's man-to-man defense was a pleasant surprise, especially considering that Penn State was playing from behind for the entire game. The lack of turnovers on the Lions' behalf, as well as their improved shooting, make this year's team better than the 2013 squad that lost its first 14 conference games. Defense is still a major issue, though.
Things that were not surprising
Tim Frazier missed both of his three-point field goal attempts. These have to stop. Frazier is shooting a little better better from beyond the arc than he used to (33 percent this season compared to 31 percent two seasons ago), but he still shouldn't be forcing up a three-pointer at the end of the first half like he did on this night. It's a waste of a possession that could have been better used finding a shot for Jack, Travis, or maybe even Geno Thorpe, who played 20 minutes versus Michigan without attempting a field goal.
Penn State had just eight assists on 26 field goals made. The Lions should probably be averaging more assists per game as a team considering they have some guys who can spot up and shoot. However, against Michigan, Frazier had six assists, and all the other guards on the team combined for zero. It's true that no one gets an assist when D.J. Newbill makes one of his brilliant drives to the basket, but PSU could still stand to set up some of its shots better. Watching John Johnson heave up one three-pointer with a hand in his face is more than enough times for an evening.
The defense allowed Michigan's Nik Stauskas to dominate the game. Penn State has actually played pretty good defense against opposing guards lately, but I still don't trust them against a dynamic player like Stauskas, so this goes in the "not surprising" category. The Canadian sophomore scored 21 points on 12 shots while adding in six rebounds and five assists. He burned the Lions on a mix of three-pointers and drives to the bucket. Stauskas being open in the corner so often was a side effect of Penn State failing to defend the Michigan pick-and-roll with two players. Too often a third defender needed to crash into the lane to defend the basket, and that's when Stauskas got open for shots or penetration. It also didn't help that Jon Horford did a great job of slipping screens and rolling to the hoop.