Now it gets real for Purdue basketball.
Later today the Boilers will achieve their highest ranking in seven years when the AP Poll comes out. Purdue is one of two teams atop the Big Ten at 4-0 after four games, and our perceived main competition is now a step behind after Ohio State stunned many by knocking off Michigan State yesterday. We are on one of the longest winning streaks in America and some truly special things could be in order now.
But up next is the toughest two-game stretch we have faced in months.
Purdue’s current senior class has accomplished a lot in their careers, but there are three Big Ten arena in which they have yet to win a game. They have a shot this year at getting all three, and the first up is tomorrow night at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor. Last season the Wolverines were Purdue’s kryptonite. They owned 25% of Purdue’s losses with a pair of victories and were the only team to beat us twice. They handed Purdue its worst loss (by margin) of the season in a dominant 82-70 win in Ann Arbor and later pulled off an upset win in the Big Ten Tournament’s 1/8 game. Between February 1st and march 22nd last year Purdue was 10-2, but both losses were to Michigan.
This is the toughest game we have had in a while, and a victory might open the door to a coveted No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
From: Ann Arbor, MI
Date : Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Tip Time: 9pm 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
2016-17 Record: 26-12, 10-8 Big Ten (lost to Oregon 69-68 in NCAA Sweet 16)
2017-18 Record: 14-3, 3-1 Big Ten
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 86-69
Last Michigan Win: 74-70 (OT) in Big Ten tournament at Washington, DC on 3/10/2017
Last Purdue Win: 76-59 in Big Ten Tournament at Indianapolis on 3/12/2016
NCAA Tournament History: 27 Appearances, last in 2017. 1989 NCAA Champion
Coach: John Beilein (229-138 in 11th season at Michigan, 705-413 overall)
So far this season Michigan has been good, but not excellent. They are 1-2 against tier 1 teams like Purdue, winning at Texas 59-52, but losing at Ohio State and North Carolina. They also have a nice home win over UCLA. What cost them the most was a 77-75 loss to LSU in the first round of the Maui Invitational. A win gets them games against Notre Dame, then either Wichita State or Marquette. Instead, they blasted Chaminade in a game that essentially does not even count for NCAA purposes, then beat a sub-100 VCU team.
They are a hot team like Purdue, however. Their last loss was at Ohio State 71-62 on December 4, a game in which they led 43-30 at halftime. They followed that by beating Texas & UCLA, and in the first two games back in league play they beat Iowa 75-68 and Illinois 79-69.
It is a John Beilein team so we know what they are going to do. They are going to shoot a ton of threes and hope they get hot. They are the only team with more made three-pointers than Purdue at 164 through 17 games (Purdue is at 160). They hit at a 36.9% rate and are 9-0 at home as a result. Only Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan are unbeaten at home in conference play.
This is also a very big week for Michigan’s own conference title hopes. They host Purdue and go to Michigan State for their only two games this season against the favorites. They are wanting a split, and if they were to take both they would likely seize the mantle of “favorite” for themselves.
Michigan is a pretty balanced team with four players in double figures. Charles Matthews is their top scorer at 15.6 points per game. Boiler-killer Moritz Wagner averages 14.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, and he shoots 38.5% from three. He is the key for Purdue. Last season he hit 4 threes and was 10 of 15 from the field with 24 points in the win in Ann Arbor. Purdue did much better the second time around. He was held to 5 points and Purdue should have won if not for a missed FT by P.J. Thompson late in regulation.
Purdue has to keep Wagner and his offensive skillset from dominating. He is a rich man’s Matt Haarms. Purdue struggled last year because he created such a matchup problem with both Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan in there. We can’t afford to lose him on the perimeter, because if he is hitting it unclogs the lane for their guards.
Muhammas-Ali Abdur Rahkman (MAAR for short) averages 11 points and 3.5 assists per game. Duncan Robinson is also solid at 10.2 points per game. This group forms a core four that does the bulk of everything for the Wolverines. All four have attempted over 50 3-pointers and all four shoot better than 35% from outside. Zavier Simpson, a won time Purdue target, has served well as a backup point guard and distributor at 3.3 assists and 5.1 points per game.
Playing Michigan was such a clash of styles last year, but Purdue is strangely a better matchup without Swanigan. Purdue still has a size differential, but Haarms is a better defender and can match up with Wagner better defensively than Biggie did. This is still a very experienced Michigan team that had Purdue’s number last year.
With Minnesota faltering and facing off the court issues this is a big game for Purdue. We do not absolutely need it to win the Big Ten again, but a victory opens even more doors for the season. It would be an excellent road win. Given the way the schedule breaks, it could set Purdue up to be undefeated in league play until February 7 when Ohio State comes to town and before Purdue goes to Michigan State on February 10th. I say that because if Purdue wins in Ann Arbor it would definitely be favored in the return game at Mackey January 25th. Of course, as we learned yesterday, you can take nothing for granted in the Big Ten. I am not saying we’re running the table by any means. You can lose at any time in this league, but a win in Ann Arbor would vault possibilities into the stratosphere. I am talking No. 1 seed in March possibilities.
Purdue is one of the hottest teams in the country right now. It is probably going to be favored in every game until that Michigan State game, but this will not be easy. As mentioned, these seniors have not won in Ann Arbor. The old Purdue fan in me is waiting for the other shoe to drop, too. I am begging that it won’t come. I am hoping that this is finally the year. There is still dread, and I think we’re due for an off night against a good team. Michigan 75, Purdue 72