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January 14, 2014

What To Watch For: U-M vs. Penn State

Here are the keys to the game for Michigan's Tuesday night tussle with Penn State:

1. What To Do With Ross Travis

There is plenty of talk about Penn State's guard play, especially after the Nittany Lions pulled off the biggest upset of the Big Ten season last February, beating the Wolverines, 84-78.

In that game, Penn State guards Jermaine Michael and D.J. Newbill scorched Michigan for 25 and 17 points, respectfully.

Marshall had a team-high 17 points in the Nittany Lions' 79-71 loss at Michigan earlier in that season, and he added eight points in a loss in the Big Ten Tournament. Newbill scored 11 points in the regular-season loss and 20 points in the Big Ten Tournament.

But oft overlooked is the role forward Ross Travis played in Penn State's success against the Wolverines last season.

In three games against Michigan, Travis recorded three double-doubles, with 11 points and 10 rebounds in the Feb. 17 loss; 15 points and 12 assists in the Feb. 27 upset win; and 12 points and 11 rebounds in the Big Ten Tournament loss.

For the season, Travis averaged 7.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He had just two other double-doubles in the entire year: 11 points and 10 rebounds vs. Akron and 14 points and 10 rebounds vs. Army. He didn't record a single double-double as a freshman in 2011-12.

In short, there is certainly something about Michigan that allows Travis to have tremendous success.

And this year, Travis has taken a big step up in production. Through 17 games, all of which he has started (averaging 32.9 minutes per game), Travis is third on the team in scoring, averaging 11.2 points per game.

He's also the team's best rebounder, by far. He has racked up 141 boards so far (8.3 per game), 52 more than anyone else on the team. He already has four double-doubles, too: 11 points and 13 rebounds vs. Longwood; 17 points and 13 rebounds vs. Ole Miss; 15 points and 12 rebounds vs. Princeton; and 18 points and 13 rebounds vs. Minnesota.

He's going to be a big challenge for redshirt junior forward Jon Horford and fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan in the paint.

2. Be Aggressive

Penn State does not have an extremely deep bench, with three starters (Ross, Newbill and point guard Tim Frazier) all averaging at least 32.9 minutes per game.

And that can be troublesome for the Nittany Lions, because they foul more than almost everyone in the country. Penn State ranks No. 286 nationally in fouls per game, averaging 21.4 per game.

In 17 games, the Nittany Lions have had 15 players foul out. They've had two or more players finish with at least four fouls in 12-of-17 games.

Starting center Donovan Jack has fouled out four times; Newbill and forward Brandon Taylor have each fouled out thrice; Frazier has fouled out twice; and Julian Morris, Ross Travis and John Johnson have each fouled out once.

That's a lot of fouling. And, if any of them get in early foul trouble, there's not much on the bench to replace them. The starting five has accounted for 81 percent of the Nittany Lions' scoring so far.

If Michigan is aggressive offensively and starts drawing fouls from the get-go, it could spell doom for Penn State.


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