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Baby Boilers open Big Ten play

At 2pm on Saturday the Baby Boilers will face their next test of growth when the Michigan Wolverines come to Mackey Arena. Since I am covering a high school game on Saturday in Lafayette I am strongly considering heading up early to take in this game, as it affords me my best opportunity to see a game at Mackey this year. On paper it looks like a lay-up to start Big Ten play, but Wofford was supposed to be a home lay-up before heading to Vegas for two semi-tough games.
Michigan so far:

The Wolverines opened conference play at home last night by promptly falling behind by 16 in the first half to Wisconsin and never seriously threatening against one of the top three teams in the league. It was an inauspicious beginning of conference play for a team that needed some kind of positive after a lousy non-conference season.

I will give the Wolverines credit for playing a tough schedule so far, but it doesn’t mean anything. So far Michigan has played five ranked teams, four of them from outside the Big Ten. Unfortunately in those five games they have really only played one good half, leading #8 UCLA at halftime before eventually falling by 15. Playing a tough schedule means little if you don’t grab a win or two against those good teams, and Michigan has five losses in those five games plus a loss to unranked, but always tough Boston College.

Okay, so they played a tough schedule, but Michigan did well against its cupcakes, right? That answer is a resounding no. Western Kentucky is one of the country’s better mid-majors at 10-4, playing Tennessee to a six point game and Gonzaga to three points. They added a four point win over Michigan in Alaska. Losses to Harvard and Central Michigan, however, are not as good. So far the Wolverines have only beaten Radford, Brown, Eastern Washington, and Oakland. Of those four only Brown at 7-5 has a winning record. Apparently Brown can’t do too much in this instance, but at least Michigan has beaten the best team in the Ivy League. Losing to Harvard those means they have lost to one of the worst.

Who is dangerous for Michigan:

Honestly, not too many people. Freshman Manny Harris is the leading scorer at 15.7 points per game, but he also turns the ball over more than 3.5 times per game. The only other player in double figures is sophomore DeShawn Sims at 13.5 per game. His numbers are up dramatically, more than 10 points per game after last season, and would be better if not for one point combined in both the Georgetown and Eastern Washington games. Both Harris and Sims along with senior Ron Coleman are the team’s leading rebounders, but the Wolverines tend to rebound by committee as no one is averaging more than five caroms per game.

Michigan doesn’t have a ton of size, as its three 6’10" players barely play and only sophomore Ekpe Udoh contributes. They do not have a true center on the roster, and therefore they prefer to play on the perimeter.

Michigan doesn’t even do that well, as the Wolverines are shooting just 42% from the field on the season and 33% from 3-point land. Michigan was further hampered a few days ago when experienced junior Jerret Smith was dismissed from the team. He hadn’t exactly lit up the scoreboard this season, but he was an experienced player with several starts on a young team looking for an identity.

What not to fear from Michigan:

Certainly not their defense. If the Wolverines hold you under 60 points they win, as they are 3-0 in such games. In games where they allow more than 60, however, they are 1-8, with the only win being a 103-87 shootout against Oakland. Most of the time when Michigan loses its not even close, but part of that is due to the fact they have played five really, really good teams so far. Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer had a career night last night with 25 points, as the freshman only had a previous high of 12 before facing the Wolverines.

The Wolverines are off to their worst start since the early 80’s, and are generally considered to be the worst team in the conference this year. When people pick perennial bottom-dweller Northwestern to finish above you you know it’s a bad year. The Wolverines haven’t been to the NCAA’s since winning the inaugural Big Ten tournament in 1998. A huge recruiting scandal has played a large part in that slump, but that has been over for five years now and Michigan has regressed rather than progressed.

General Outlook:

The Big Ten schedule makers did us a favor here, as quite simply we cannot be given an easier Big Ten opener unless Savannah State suddenly joined the conference. It may take us a while to shake off the rust of playing just one game in two weeks, but I like our chances to get things going at home. Last season we suffered a bad loss at Minnesota in conference play and still recovered to make the tournament, but this would be a worse loss than even Wofford.

We’re averaging just over 69 points per game, so if we simply hit our average we fall into that category where Michigan has found it nearly impossible to win this year. I also like our balance in that our top eight players are each averaging more than seven points per game. There is also the added bonus that the game is on ESPN, meaning I can watch it even if I don’t go to Lafayette early.

My only concern is our start, as falling behind 16-0 to a team like Florida International will not cut it in the Big Ten. Michigan is a team that has proven it cannot come from behind this year. If we put this one away early we might be able to get some valuable minutes for Chad Sutor and Chris Reid.

Simply put: If Purdue cannot win this game we have absolutely zero business in the NCAA’s at year’s end.

PREDICTION: Purdue 71, Michigan 51