Tomorrow's task is difficult. The Michigan Wolverines are one of the hottest teams in the nation and they have a chance to claim a Big Ten title if Michigan State slips up. With a victory on Saturday they clinch one of the four first round byes in the Big Ten Tournament and they could be a very likely second round opponent for Purdue in Indianapolis.
Once again, Purdue is faced with a chance to get a stellar victory, something that hasn't happened since November. Temple has climbed all the way to 12th in the RPI, giving us our only really good win of the season. It came in November, however. A win in Ann Arbor gives us a huge true road win, it likely secures our place in the NCAA Tournament (assuming we don't slip against Penn State or in the first round of the Big Ten Tourney), and it gives us an outside shot at a top 4 finish and a first round bye because of Wisconsin's recent struggles.
If you're the Wolverines, you have to like your chances of claiming a share of the Big Ten if you win this game and the Spartans drop a game. Michigan finishes at Illinois, which has just about as visibly quit on the season as you can without Brandon Paul going to midcourt and taking a dump, and at Penn State. This is a team looking for a three seed in March, with an outside chance at a two.
2010-11 Record: 21-14-9-9 Big Ten (Lost to Duke 73-71 in NCAA Tournament Round 2)
2011-12 Record: 21-7, 11-4 Big Ten
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 82-62
Last Purdue win: 12/28/10 80-57 in Ann Arbor
Last Michigan win: 1/24/12 at Purdue 66-64
Time & TV 6pm on Big Ten Network
|Tim Hardaway Jr||28||33.8||4.9||11.9||41.4||1.5||5.6||27.4||2.9||4.1||69.8||0.7||2.8||3.5||2.4||1.7||0.4||0.3||2.0||14.3|
I cannot help but think we let one slip away in West Lafayette. As is tradition, we had a 10 minute cold stretch to lose this one. The only difference is that we split it up into two separate 5 minutes stretches at the beginning of each half. It was Jordan Morgan that made the difference in game one. We had no answer for him and his dunk off a backdoor cut gave them the lead with 1:37 left. We still had four different chances to win the game in the last 90 seconds, but here is what happened:
- Robbie Hummel missed a three.
- Terone Johnson missed the front of a one-and-one after boarding Rob's miss.
- Ryne Smith missed a three after a Lewis Jackson steal.
- Rob missed a three after an offensive rebound.
As you can see, the common thread here is that we were terrified to attack the basket when we're at home down by a point. TJ was fouled falling away from the basket 16 feet away getting a rebound. Our last five shots from the field were all three-pointers, and they were all missed. As a result, we lost a close one at home.
One thing I have noticed about Michigan since that game is that they have developed a killer closer's instinct. This is a team that won't die, as evidenced by their comeback at Northwestern on Tuesday. That was just a brutal loss for the Wildcats, but Michigan hit every big shot and got the stops they needed. The Wolverines did the same against Ohio State, Illinois, and Nebraska in recent victories. Outside of Michigan State, I don't think there is a team playing with more confidence in the conference right now.
This team is a difficult matchup for us because we proved the last time we cannot stop Morgan in the paint, and he can kick out to Evan Smotrycz or Zack Novak for threes. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. can get their own shots too. In their last five victories they have been defensively stifling, holding those defeated opponents under 61 points.
It is simple analysis, but we have got to make shots to win. The Ohio State game was the only loss of our 10 defeats in which we actually shot well. At Mackey we were 44%, but again, we missed our last five looks and they were all good looks. LewJack was able to pick Burke apart for 17 points and eight assists, but Rob was 6 of 14 and Ryno was 3 of 8.
What made Michigan dangerous was guys like Morgan and Smotrycz collapsing in for easy baskets after Burke drew the defense to him. That led to six assists, including one on the game winner.
Maize N' Brew has some similar thinking:
The two biggest things that jump out about Purdue's statistical profile are their poor defense (10th in the Big Ten overall) and their absurdly low turnover rate (which makes their otherwise mediocre offense into a fairly effective unit). If all goes according to the numbers, Michigan will shoot the ball extremely well again, and neither team will turn the ball over or get to the free throw line very much. One thing to note is Michigan's field goal shooting in the last game -- the Wolverines attempted 36 of their 50 field goals from inside the arc and finished at a stellar 50% shooting. If not for the turnovers (Michigan had 12, four by Hardaway and 3 each by Burke and Morgan), Michigan would have won by several more.
To pull the upset we're going to have to play with the defensive intensity that has been hit or miss, plus we're going to have to hit shots. D.J. Byrd has been red hot of late, and that trend must continue. If he is still hitting, Rob has another good game, TJ and LewJack can get into the lane like last time, and Ryne knocks down some shots we have a chance. We weren't that far off from them at home, so this time we need to close the deal.
As a final note, Purdue is the only team that stands in the way of Michigan going undefeated in Ann Arbor this year in both football and basketball. It's time to spoil the show, men.