Purdue improved to 19-1 with the ‘hold on to the seat of your pants’ final 30 minutes victory over Maryland 58-55. The victory allowed the Boilers to set the record for the best 20 game start in program history and sets up the Boilers to be the first major conference team in the country to hit the 20 victory mark against a Michigan team that has struggled to find consistency even with projected lottery pick Jett Howard and former consensus All-American big man Hunter Dickinson.
Purdue will look to their freshman back court to provide the scoring to compliment Zach Edey in the middle who is having a B1G and National Player of the Year caliber season. Edey is currently averaging 21.5 points per game, 13.2 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks on the season while Loyer and Smith combine for 22.7 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game, and shoot 36.4% and 44.6% from behind the arc, respectively.
Jett Howard, the son of current Michigan Head Coach Juwan Howard, is having a terrific freshman season averaging 14.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, while shooting 38.2% from behind the arc. He is considered a likely lottery pick in the 2023 NBA draft. Dickinson is well known to most Boilers as he was largely considered to be headed to Purdue before finally deciding on Michigan. In retrospect, Purdue ended up with Zach Edey and I think most Purdue fans are ok with that.
Let’s get into the important matchups ahead of another big time road game for the Boilers.
1 | Zach Edey vs. Hunter Dickinson
Other than the matchup between Edey and Trayce Jackson-Davis, this is the preeminent B1G matchup between big men in the conference this season. In the other major matchup for Edey against Rutgers’ Cliff Omoruyi earlier in the season, Edey had 19 points on 6-10 shootings with 11 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks but didn’t get the help from the perimeter players to compliment him inside. I don’t think Dickinson is as good of a defender inside as Cliff is but I think Michigan is going to try and allow Dickinson (and freshman Tarris Reed) to defend Edey one-on-one and try to take away the shooters from Purdue on the outside. Edey will have to come out and play well to punish Michigan early in the game as they tend to struggle in defensive rotations and staying in front of capable guards so forcing them to double will benefit Purdue immensely on dump passes to the forwards and skip passes to the weakside.
This will be a matchup where Edey’s improvements in the off season will be heavily tested as Dickinson has shown he is a capable shooter from behind the arc at 7’1. He isn’t a threat to dribble drive Edey quickly off the catch which will help but stretching Edey out to fully guard Dickinson will open up the lanes for Jett Howard and other Wolverine wings to get to the rim. It is possible that we see Edey defend guard another wing who struggles from behind the arc but that will force Caleb Furst, Mason Gillis, or TKR into defending a high end scorer in the post.
Edey will need to either be patient to allow the double to come and pass out of it to get Michigan in rotation or be decisive and attack the rim. This game may be determined in the first few minutes if either Edey or Dickinson are forced the bench for extended time due to fouls. Purdue is built more to handle that than Michigan is but Edey’s presence in the middle keeps a lot of wings and guards away from the paint.
2 | Jett Howard vs. Ethan Morton (Howard questionable for tonight’s game)
This is going to be one of Ethan Morton’s biggest and toughest assignments of the season. He has grown into being considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the B1G this season and often draws the assignment of the best perimeter scorer to defend. I think that is where his offensive struggles are coming from because he is exerting so much focus and energy there that his shots just aren’t falling. Personally, if Morton catches and looks to attack the rotation or get to the paint to force the defense to collapse, he doesn’t have to take a lot of shots from behind the arc. But the value Morton brings on the defensive end is clear and was made even more so with his terrific game against Maryland’s Jahmir Young.
Jett Howard is Michigan’s main scoring threat from the perimeter and he can score in a variety of ways. Howard can take a defender off the dribble but he tends to like to shoot over defenders with his length from the outside where he shoots 38.2% from behind the arc. Morton may not be able to fully stop Howard but controlling his scoring and ability to score late in the shot clock will be needed to control the tempo of the game against a team who struggles defensively to stop teams who have good offenses.
3 | Braden Smith vs. Dug McDaniel
This is going to be one of the best matchups of freshman point guards you are going to see anywhere in the country. Purdue fans are obviously well aware of what Smith has meant to the Boilers who would likely not be in the position of being the #1 team in the country without Smith’s meteoric rise as a freshman. Yes, he is averaging a wonderful 9.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.3 assists on 44.6% shooting from behind the arc but it is what he provides from an intensity and offensive flow perspective that makes him so important. He is likely Purdue’s best point guard in the high pick and roll that has become so important in today’s college basketball landscape in the Matt Painter era. As the season has gone on he has gotten more comfortable in taking shots from the outside when defenders go underneath a screen which makes him a greater threat to a team that is poor in rotations and frequently doesn’t play great off ball defense on the weak side.
McDaniel is a wonderful traditional point guard and does a great job setting up teammates by getting into the lane and passing out to open shooters when help collapses or dumping passes to their centers when help steps up. McDaniel isn’t a high scorer for the Wolverines with his average at just 7.1 points per game but he has scored 10, 14, 17, and 4 in his last four games. Keeping McDaniel from becoming a scoring threat off the PNR and keeping him in front so he can’t create off the dribble will be key for Smith (and whoever else defends McDaniel).
Michigan has the ability to score some points with Howard and Dickinson but their defense has been largely poor for most of the season. The Wolverines give up an average of 69.5 points per game and struggle with teams that have good movement on offense and can get into the lane. Purdue, at some point, needs to learn to extend leads and sustain themselves throughout an entire game or the lulls they have found themselves in games will eventually come back and bite them. Edey grabs another double-double, Fletcher nails three or more 3’s, Morton exerts himself on defense, and the refs continue trying to see if Edey has candy inside of him (I think it would be be Big Turks) to lead a Purdue team that grabs another Q1 road win.