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Elbow-gate returns to Mackey Arena

Saturday is going to be interesting. It is the first time Michigan comes back to Mackey Arena after Manny Harris re-arranged Chris Kramer's face with an elbow (inadvertent or otherwise. I think both were at fault). The Paint Crew will surely remember. Harris will remember. Kramer will remember. I think Kramer should at least come out for warm-ups with a Hannibal Lecter mask. That, or he should return with the regular face mask, only painted up in his custom design like a hockey goalie. Either way, it will be the main topic of discussion for the broadcast.

What should be discussed is that this game can get us back above .500 in league play. We can't do anything about the three losses we have on our record. We can only move forward with what is in front of us. Most people predicted that the winner of the Big Ten would have three losses anyway, so what does it matter if we just got them out of the way early? You can't win the conference without taking things one game at a time, as Michigan State nearly proved Wednesday night when they nearly gacked at home against Iowa. At this point all it takes is two teams beating them and we are back alive. Look at what is happening nationally too. Already three teams in front of us in the rankings have lost, meaning we can likely move back into the top ten (and #2 seed consideration) with a win this weekend. Let's do our part Saturday against the Wolverines in our only game against them this year.

2009-10 record: 10-8, 3-3 Big Ten

2008-09 record: 21-14, 9-9 Big Ten (lost to Oklahoma 73-63 in NCAA Tournament Second Round)

Blog Representation: MGoBlog, Varsity Blue, Michigan Sports Center, iBlog for Cookies, Maize'n'Brew, Maize & Blue Nation, UM Hoops

Common non-conference opponents: Alabama (L 68-66)

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 80-61

Last Purdue win 1/31/09 at Purdue 67-49

Last Michigan win 2/26/09 at Michigan 87-78

Michigan is a hard team to figure out this year. They can clearly compete with anyone in the country. They played a tough game at Kansas before falling. They beat a solid Connecticut team at home. Even this week they were leading Wisconsin in Madison before falling late. They have some puzzling losses though. They lost at Indiana, but dominated the Hoosiers two weeks later in Ann Arbor. They lost badly at Utah, but played Alabama to a close game on a neutral floor. Since losing to Indiana they have been a better team. They won four of their next five before the Wisconsin loss. In that stretch they lost to Northwestern, but beat Connecticut and Ohio State (without Evan Turner). As I stated in the Illinois wrap, they can just easily beat us as lose by 25.

Right now, they are a two man. Maize N' Brew summed the Wisconsin loss up best by stating that DeShawn Sims destroyed the Badgers, but received almost no help from everyone else. On paper, they are only slightly better than last place Penn State. The Nittany Lions have only Talor Battle, who is trying to win Big Ten Player of the Year on a team that might go 0-for-the conference. Michigan has Harris, Sims, and that is about it.

Harris (19.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.3 apg) is one of the most polished players in the conference. He is a big guard that can create his own shot, drive, or shoot from outside. He is not a great 3-point shooter (28%), but that doesn't stop him from shooting them (85 attempts). Sims (17.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg) prefers to play in the post, but he can also step out for the three. At 6'8" he is what you are looking for in a Big Ten power forward, but he still has 45 3-point attempts on the year. Combined, Harris and Sims have taken almost half of Michigan's field goal attempts this year. These are easily two of the best players in the conference, which makes Michigan's 10-8 overall record so perplexing. They should be better than they are.

The Wolverines are a much better when someone steps up to help Sims and Harris. Zack Novak (7.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Stu Douglass (7.1 ppg, 2.7 apg), and Laval Lucas-Perry (6.3 ppg) are the leading helpers to the dynamic duo, but after them scoring is pretty much an afterthought for Michigan's regular rotation. The Wolverines do have a nine man rotation, but Darius Morris, Zack Gibson, Anthony Wright, and Matt Matt Vogrich barely average 11 points combined. The minutes drop off sharply too. Gibson, Vogrich, and Wright are in for less than ten minutes per contest. This tells me that fatigue can be a factor if our defense is playing well. With only six guys playing more than 10 minutes per game we can wear them down, especially if John Hart gives us added depth.

Michigan is a very poor rebounding team at just 33 per game. Sims and Harris add to their games by being good offensive rebounders, but much like the Northwestern game, we will only be out-rebounded if we once again make the conscious decision that we don't want to rebound. There will be chances to rebound as well. Michigan shoots 29.6% from long range and 42.8% overall.

This is still mostly the same team that beat us in Ann Arbor a year ago. A big reason for that loss was that JaJuan Johnson got in foul trouble and was a non-factor. We have to have him as a factor or we struggle. It is that simple. He was a major factor at Illinois and we suddenly looked a lot better. If I wanted to beat us, I would attack Johnson relentlessly and get him in foul trouble. Patrick Bade, while showing progress, is not the offensive threat that JJ is, and people know this.

There are several wild cards to consider now. How will Hart and Kelsey Barlow perform after their unexpected contributions against Illinois? Does Hart play big minutes? Has Barlow earned the starter's role ahead of Keaton Grant? In my mind, I think Barlow has, but I think Grant is a better player off of the bench. He only had two points against Illinois, but they were an aggressive two points and he attacked the glass to do the little things we needed. I can see Grant becoming what Marcus Green was last year, only with a little more offensive potential if he finds his shot.

I think the light game on for this bunch Tuesday night. The game started slowly with poor rebounding once again, but it seemed like around the third TV timeout of the first half we decided we wanted to fight again. That led to better rebounding, more effort, and more flow. Barlow opened up the offense with his ability to drive and played the best game of his career do date. Hart proved my belief that you beat teams by making them worry about other guys, not your main scorers. We can survive if Harris and Sims are making all their shots. We will struggle if someone like Lucas-Perry goes Taylor (from the Wisconsin game) on us.

Sometimes it is a matter of confidence too. Hart hit a few shots against Illinois and that gave him the confidence for more. Last night in my weekly pickup game I had a similar situation. I normally set screens, patrol the perimeter, box out, and try to score on cuts to the basket. I can post someone up occasionally too. Last night, however, I scored on a slicing drive through the defense with a quick first step I had no idea existed in me. The rest of the night I used this as a weapon and scored a few more times by actually taking someone off the dribble. Sure, It was against slow 30+ year old white guys where I do appear quick, but I gained that confidence and used it as a weapon. John Hart did the same thing against Illinois, and gave the team itself confidence once again. Once you have that, you can do some pretty special things. It is just unfortunate that I am 6' on a good day with bad feet, or I would have tried a dunk last night (which is special in itself).

I think we will see a renewed team on Saturday. Michigan lost a heartbreaker at Wisconsin because it didn't have anyone other than its stars step up. Look at every big game we have won this year. Someone else has stepped up other than JJ, Robbie, and E'Twaun in each. It doesn't have to be much, but as long as someone does we make the other team worry about them instead of JJ, Robbie, and E'Twaun.

On a final note, Bobby Knight will be part of the ESPN crew doing this game. I am seriously looking forward to this more than I should. I have nothing but respect for Knight as a coach. Yes, he was an asshole, but he won a hell of a lot of basketball games. He did it his way too, by graduating players and never having a recruiting scandal. There have been some questions about how he would be welcomed at Mackey. I think we should applaud him and show him the respect he deserves as one of the greatest coaches ever. I can't wait to hear if there is another Gene Keady interview during the broadcast with Bobby. I was raised on this rivalry and would love to see them do a Subway commercial like Crean and Painter have done. A thrown chair would have to be involved though.

Keys to the Game for Purdue:

  • Dare Sims and Harris to combine for 65 and beat us
  • Continue to get something from everyone
  • Keep JJ out of foul trouble and active on the floor
  • With Kramer battling an ankle injury, have other step up on D
  • Don't fold like the Ohio State game if Sims or Harris takes over at the end

Prediction: Purdue 75, Michigan 62