Purdue is on the brink of a Big Ten championship. When you think about it, it is odd to say that. The women’s track team could win the conference indoor championship this weekend, but it would be the first team Big Ten championship of any kind for us in four years. If they win, and the basketball team wins, Purdue can finally tie Chicago with 73 Big Ten championships.
But when it comes to basketball, Purdue is tied with Indiana (and Ohio State, though two of theirs have been stripped) with 22 conference titles. The math is simple: two Purdue wins, two Wisconsin losses (plus a Maryland loss), OR a Purdue win and a Wisconsin loss clinches our 23rd title and first in eight years. A Purdue win on Saturday coupled with a Wisconsin loss in East Lansing on Sunday sets up Tuesday night to be a coronation, where Purdue can clinch its first outright Big Ten title in 21 years against the hated Hoosiers.
That is looking ahead though. There is more to play for against Michigan than just a Big Ten title. Most bracket projections have Purdue as a 4 seed now, with a chance to move up to a 3 seed. Michigan currently sits at 52 in the RPI, so a Purdue victory and success by the Wolverines next week could give us a 7th top 50 RPI win. A seventh straight victory would tie our longest winning streak of the season. It would also move Purdue to an impressive 6-2 on the road in Big Ten play.
It will not be easy. As we learned on Tuesday, winning on the road is never easy in this conference. Purdue has lost close games to two of the weakest members of the conference, won two games by a single point, won one game in overtime, and another that came down to the final minute.
Juan will be in attendance for us tomorrow with a media pass, so let’s get to the preview:
From: Ann Arbor, MI
Date : Saturday, February 25, 2017
Tip Time: 4pm ET
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Arena: Crisler Center (13,751)
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: No Line Yet
2015-16 Record: 18-10, 8-7 Big Ten
2016-17 Record: 22-13, 10-8 Lost in NCAA Tournament First Round to Notre Dame 70-63
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 86-67
Last Michigan win Win: 61-56 at Michigan on 2/13/2016
Last Purdue Win: 76-59 in Big Ten Tournament at Indianapolis on 3/12/2016
NCAA Tournament History: 26 Appearances, last in 2011. 1989 NCAA Champion
It has been an up and down season for the Wolverines, but if it ended today they would probably be an NCAA Tournament team for a second year in a row. It is a lot like last year for them, and even last year’s two games against Purdue is an example. With 3 minutes left in Ann Arbor last year Purdue led 56-50, but it forgot to play the last three minutes. Zak Irvin made a three, Derrick Walton Jr. scored, Irvin made another basket, and four free throws gave Michigan the last 11 points of the game. It was another late collapse like so many we saw last season, and kind of like Tuesday night’s game against Penn State.
Later on we played them in the Big Ten Tournament and A.J. Hammons decided to go into his Destroyer of Worlds routine with a 27-11-3. Purdue shot 52.7% to their 37.7% and we won easily.
This year Michigan has had some highs and lows. They collapsed late against Virginia Tech at home in their ACC/Big Ten challenge game, losing 73-70. They have a nice non-conference win over SMU, but they lost to UCLA and South Carolina. In conference play they have been all over the map. Last week they helped us by beating Wisconsin. They got a valuable sweep of Indiana and they split with Michigan State. Unfortunately, they have also lost at Illinois and Iowa. On Wednesday they barely survived lowly Rutgers.
The thing about Michigan is what is true about them every year: they are going to shoot a lot of threes and hope they are hot. They are tied with Purdue atop the Big Ten at 9.3 made per game and they are hitting at a 38.3% clip as a team. Purdue leads the conference at 41.1%, but has only attempted 612 to Michigan’s league leading 658. Iowa and Indiana have attempted more threes than Purdue, but they are nowhere close to Michigan’s level.
The Big Three for Michigan is more than capable of doing a lot of damage. Derrick Walton Jr. leads them at 14.3 points per game and he shoots 41.9% from long range. That is 6th in the league, but behind Caleb Swanigan and Dakota Mathias. It is also just barely ahead of Ryan Cline. Zak Irvin, the senior from Hamilton Southeastern, averages 12.8 points per game and he had 22 against Purdue last year.
Walton had a smoking hot five game stretch for the Wolverines where he scored 20 or more in five straight games. Michigan won three of those, but he did have 25 in a loss at Ohio State and in a win at Indiana. He only had 5 in their win over Wisconsin though.
Joining those two is sophomore German big man Moritz Wagner. The 6’11” big man from Berlin averages 12.2 points per game and will draw both Swanigan and Isaac Haas away from the basket. While Thomas Bryant occasionally used the three in his arsenal, Wagner has shot 82 this year and is hitting 41.5% from there. He had 21 in the win over Wisconsin and what concerns me is that he is not a traditional banger that Haas is used to guarding. If he heats up from outside Purdue can be in real trouble.
One benefit to Purdue is that we should have an OVERWHELMING advantage in rebounding. All those threes, especially from a 6’11” guy, have an impact on rebounding. Michigan is dead last in the conference in both offensive and defensive rebounding by a wide margin. They get only 7.7 offensive rebounds per game (Purdue gets 10, and is 11th in the league) and only 21.6 per game on the defensive glass. By comparison, Purdue leads the conference at 28.8 boards per game. This is before you factor in angry Caleb Swanigan being denied his double-double by Penn State.
I hate to reduce a game to simplicity like this, but it really is a case of “will Michigan be hot from outside?” Purdue will face its stiffest test on the perimeter and there is very little post game for the Wolverines. D.J. Wilson averages 10.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game down low, but even he goes outside to shoot threes at a 39.2% clip. Purdue’s three-point shooting defense has been okay, but Michigan is 13th in the league at defending the three. That means nothing though, as Nebraska is 14th and look what happened.
Purdue’s offensive versatility should be an advantage here. Haas and Swanigan need to be dominant when they are single-teamed and draw fouls. If Wagner and Wilson end up on the bench on foul trouble there will be open looks. Haas and Swanigan can either score one-on-one or find the open man in the double-team.
On the other end it is defend the perimeter at all costs. They shoot more than 24 three per game. They have attempted the fewest two-point field goals of anyone in the Big Ten. If they are hot, we’re in trouble. If not, Purdue should win and set up a party for Tuesday night.