USA TODAY Sports
Purdue faces its most difficult game of the year at Michigan tonight.
Last season as Purdue found itself on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament it traveled to Michigan and stunned the Wolverines 75-61 on Senior Day. It was Michigan's only loss at home last year, and it is the lone loss they have had at Crisler Arena in almost two calendar years now. This all came after Michigan walked into Mackey last season and won a close one. Eventually, it cost the Wolverines the outright Big Ten title.
Purdue now finds itself in a more dire situation if it is going to make the 2013 NCAA Tournament. A win at a place like Michigan would do wonders for its resume, but the Wolverines are a better team than last year. Purdue is also much younger, but has been playing a feisty brand of basketball since the calendar turned to 2013.
Make no mistake, tonight is going to be a tough one. The Wolverines are big favorites and they should be. If Purdue can go in and stun the Big Ten with a very surprising road win, however, it would announce that maybe the Boilermakers will have a much larger say in the championship race than originally thought.
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
2011-12 record: 24-10, 13-5 Big Ten (Big Ten Tri-champions)
2012-13 Record: 17-1, 4-1 Big Ten
2012 Postseason: Lost to Ohio 65-60 in NCAA Tournament First Round
Series With Purdue: Purdue Leads 83-61
Last Purdue win: 75-61 at Michigan on 2/25/2012
Last Michigan win: 66-64 at Purdue on 1/24/2012
Odds: Michigan by 16.5
I had my doubts about Michigan coming into the season based on the way they finished last year. After winning the Big Ten they got blown out by Ohio State in Indianapolis before losing to surprise Sweet 16 team Ohio in the NCAA First Round. It was a bitter end to a solid comeback season.
Now, after Duke's annihilation at the hands of Miami last night, Michigan is poised to take over the No. 1 ranking in the nation. Their one loss was by three points on the road in a game where they spotted Ohio State a big lead early before nearly coming all the way back. The rest of the season they have been killing teams. Of their 17 wins, 13 have been by double-digits. Only NC State, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and Bradley have come within 10 points.
Part of that comes from Michigan being the No. 9 scoring team in the country. They score just under 80 points per game and are the fourth best field goal shooting team in the country at 51%. They also average 16 assists per contest, so they share the ball extremely well. For Purdue to have any chance the Boilers are going to have to turn in one of their best defensive efforts of the season.
It all starts with point guard Trey Burke, who is turning in a Big Ten Player of the Year type of season. He averages 18 points and 7.2 assists per game, giving Ronnie Johnson a huge defensive challenge at the point. Burke is also a very good defender in his own right and he shoots better than 50% from the field and 40% from three. As an 80% free throw shooter you don't want to foul him, either.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is a mismatch for Terone Johnson at the two, as Michigan probably has the best backcourt in the conference. Hardaway is just under 40% from three and is 48.5% from the field in averaging 16.4 points per game and 2.6 assists. Hardaway is also an excellent rebounder for a two guard.
Freshman Nick Stauskas has been the best of a very good freshman class, averaging 12.6 points and 1.3 assists as the third guard. He is shooting a blistering 49.5% from three, and that is while leading the team in attempts and makes. With Glenn Robinson III also playing well at 12.1 points per game and 38.9% from long range Purdue's perimeter defense will get tested like against no other opponent this year. Combined this year these four players have attempted 300 of Michigan's 376 three-pointers, roughly 17 per game.
Quite simply, if all four are hitting Purdue is screwed. John Beilein's offense thrives on the three-pointer and with a dynamic guard like Burke who can get into the lane and either score, dish off, or kickout, this is a difficult defensive challenge.
Purdue may have an advantage in the paint. Jordan Morgan has seen his numbers drop for a second straight year and he is down to 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Mitch McGary is a third freshman getting big minutes at 5.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht round out the rotation as guys that chip in a few points every night and allow the big guns to rest.
This is mostly a six-man team with Morgan and McGary trading off in the post while Robinson, Burke, Hardaway, and Stauskas do the heavy lifting. Purdue should have a small advantage in terms of overall depth, but it won't matter unless the Boilermakers win the defensive matchups.
A.J. Hammons can handle the post and as reserves you'll likely see Sandi Marcius against the bigger McGary and Travis Carroll against the smaller Morgan. Where Purdue may struggle is against Robinson. I can see Rapheal Davis getting the assignment against him with TJ against Hardway, RJ against Burke, and D.J. Byrd against Stauskas. Donnie Hale and Jacob Lawson will need to play tough perimeter defense if/when they come in as well.
The defense is key because Purdue cannot get into a shooting contest with the Wolverines. Even after Anthony Johnson had a big game against West Virginia and Davis also hit some shots Purdue only shot 49%. Sadly, that is one of Purdue's better outings. Michigan is athletic enough and good enough to have a 60% night from the field without breaking a sweat. Purdue shoots nearly nine percentage points worse than Michigan as a team.
Purdue also needs Terone Johnson to have a big game like he did last year in Ann Arbor. He was a big reason Purdue pulled off that upset as he scored 22 points on 9 of 12 shooting and was even 4 for 4 from the line.
As much as I would love to say I have a good feeling about this game (and I kind of do), realistically it is hard to see us winning this. Maybe later on in West Lafayette if everything goes right Purdue can stun them, but we're asking a team that is still very young to go into Ann Arbor and knock off one of the best teams in the country. I think it only happens if Hammons stays out of foul trouble while delivering a 20-10-5 game, Davis or TJ also has a big game, and Purdue hassles them into an uncharacteristically bad game.
Dream of an upset if:
- Michigan shoots poorly
- Hammons is virtually unstoppable on the block and avoids foul trouble
- Byrd hits a few early threes to open things up
- Davis repeats his West Virginia performance
- Purdue plays its best defensive game of the year
Expect the expected if:
- Burke plays like a Player of the Year candidate
- Michigan bombs away from deep
- Hammons gets into foul trouble against Morgan and McGary
- Michigan controls the pace
- Byrd goes cold again
Prediction: Michigan 75, Purdue 60