Following a duo of dominate wins on the road, the Purdue Boilermakers will return home to Mackey Arena to take on the Michigan Wolverines. The victories over the Indiana Hoosiers and the Iowa Hawkeyes came by an average of 17.5 points on the road and flashed the dominance that Boilers possess this season with Zach Edey averaging 31.5 points and 16 rebounds in both of those games. As good as Edey has been the past two season, the last three games may be his best stretch of basketball as the big man has averaged 31 and 17.5 over that stretch. He will be the focal point again for a Michigan team that will be without one of the most important players on its’ roster this season.
Michigan enters this game a disappointing 7-11 in Juwan Howard’s fifth season leading his alma mater. This is a far cry from the teams he has had previously that have averaged 31.75 wins per season prior to this campaign. Michigan will be without star guard Dug McDaniel who is, according to reports from Michigan Athletics, is serving an academic suspension that does not allow him to travel to away games. The Wolverines may also be without senior forward Tray Jackson as he is recovering from a concussion and a nasal fracture that may require surgery that occurred during the Penn State game.
McDaniel is an integral part to what Michigan does this season as 5’11 sophomore guard averages 17.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists, .9 steals while shooting 37.4% from behind the arc. The loss of their primary ball handler will be interesting to see as this will be the second of his six away game suspension (previously lost to Maryland 64-57).
Let’s get into ‘The Three Pointer!’
1 | Dial Up the Pressure on Michigan’s Ball Handlers
Without Dug McDaniel, I’m not sure Michigan has a high quality primary ball handler to take care of the ball for 40 minutes of action. Yes, Purdue and a lot of other programs are in that same reality but Purdue has another guy or two who can handle it at a high level for a few minutes every game. The question is, does Michigan?
McDaniel’s has averaged 36.2 minutes per game and is clearly the primary ball handler so without him, where does that responsibility go? Could it be one time Purdue target Jaelin Llewellyn? It may fall on the transfer senior who is coming off a major knee surgery and is still trying to work his way back into shape. He is averaging only 11.5 minutes per game but may see a significant increase in that against the Boilers. It may also fall on senior guard Nimari Burnett who has previously played at Texas Tech and Alabama before coming to Michigan this past season. He is playing 31.8 minutes per game and only averages 1.5 turnovers per game but has not served as a primary ball handler for the Wolverines this season.
Whoever Michigan turns to tonight is likely to get a face full of Lance Jones, Braden Smith, and Cam Heide in hopes of getting steals and deflections that can turn into transition opportunities for the Boilers. That has been more of a focal point this season for Matt Painter and at times the Boilers have dialed up that pressure when an opponent has a weak handling guard bringing the ball up.
Look for Jones to smell blood in the water if the pressure of Mackey Arena and being without one of the B1G’s best primary guards gets to whoever Michigan turns tonight. Grabbing 7 steals and turning Michigan over at least 14 times would make the visitors job of an upset incredibly difficult.
2 | Hammer the Wolverines on Offense
In Kenpom’s rankings, the Wolverines come in at 79th. Of those teams in the top 100, Michigan is 2nd to last in adjusted defensive efficiency coming in at 139th. Only Boston College’s 148th ranking (104.1) is worse in the top 100 on Kenpom. That doesn’t bode well for a visiting team coming in to Mackey Arena. As a comparison, that ranks just behind Samford (138th) who Purdue played in the first game of the season and just ahead of Morehead State (144th). Purdue scored 98 against Samford and 87 against Morehead State and if that’s any indication of the uphill battle Michigan has to battle, it likley won’t fare well.
The Boilers have looked efficient and effective on the offensive end after a bit of a lull to start the 2024 calendar year. Even with Braden Smith struggling a bit from the field, the Boiler point guard has scored just 20 points in the last three games combined and hasn’t broken double digits in that same time frame. He has averaged 9.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.7 turnovers per game over the last three games to make up for those offensive short comings. If Smith can turn the corner of the offensive woes, Purdue’s offense elevates to another level with the emergence of Lance Jones being a more consistent and efficient scoring threat. The Boilers now enjoy having four different players averaging double digit points per game.
Purdue is averaging 85.1 points per game on the season and if they can get to that mark tonight against a team that is averaging just 70.5 points per game in their last six B1G games, Purdue should grab a victory.
3 | Can Edey Grab Another 30 and 10?
If Edey grabs another 30 and 10 night, it’s going to vault him into some rarified air amongst not only Purdue legends but B1G ones as well. Although I don’t have exact stats, he joins only Terry Dischinger as Boilermakers who have recorded three straight 30 and 10 games against B1G opponents (Chris Foreman, Purdue Men’s Basketball). He already leads the B1G in 30 and 10 games with 12 total in his career and has 29 games where he has gone for 20 and 10, the most for a B1G player in the last 15 years.
Purdue has done a fantastic job of using their spacing along the perimeter to get Edey better looks with quicker post entry passes and keeping the ball moving to prevent easy double teams. Edey has also flashed a bit more as a downhill threat off pick and roll the last several games as Braden Smith has looked to attack more into the paint area and has been able to stay on two feet more.
Michigan lacks a lot of overall height and size as Tarris Reed checks in as the only player above 6’10 but doesn’t serve as a threat behind the arc as he is just 0-1 for the season. Will Tschetter is a 6’8 front court player with a wide body at 230 pounds who shoots it incredibly well from behind the arc at 64% on 17-27 shooting. That may be the way that Michigan looks to take advantage of Edey on the defensive end but what they would give up on the other end may simply be too much.
In the end, to defeat a lot of these double and triple teams, Purdue has to keep hitting outside shots and getting into the paint off their actions and pick and rolls. Sometimes, the best offensive chances for Edey in a game where the opponent is so overmatched inside is to get good shots onto the rim for him to rebound and put back using his imposing length.
And 1 | Getting Braden Back on Track
Let’s clear up what many of you are immediately thinking: ‘But Braden is still impacting the game in ways without scoring.’ Yes, and the fact he is averaging nearly 10 assists per game and less than 3 turnovers in that same timeframe is incredible. The fact is, that when Smith gets into double figures as a scorer and is hitting his three pointers, it raises Purdue’s ceiling immensely.
Smith did a great job of continuing to look to attack deep into the paint against Iowa while keeping himself on two feet to find cutters and divers towards the hoop, notably Zach Edey. Smith is truly at his best, though, when his mid range jump shot is falling and an absolute killer when he hits three pointers when defenders go underneath a ball screen. Smith’s ability to control the game on so many levels as a facilitator, scorer, and manipulator of the defense may be the best overall in the B1G when he is looking to score.
Confidence isn’t the issue and its more than likely just a mid-season struggle that can be corrected with time in the gym and continuing to play controlled yet aggressive. If Smith can get into double figures and maintain those other numbers, watch out.
Players to Watch
Olivier Nkhamhoua | #13 | Senior | 6’8 223 | Forward | 17 pts, 7.3 reb, 2.6 ast, 37.5% 3pt (24-64)
The transfer forward from Tennessee has continued to grow over the course of his career and is currently the leading scorer for the Michigan Wolverines after spending the previous four seasons as a Volunteer. They will look to use him in post ups and as an on-ball screener in hopes of generating mismatches but that’s the advantage of having multiple guys at that size in Gillis, Furst, TKR, and Heide who can matchup and defend those post ups at a high level.
Terrance Williams | #5 | Senior | 6’7 240 | Forward | 12.6 pts, 4.2 reb, 1.3 ast, 43% 3pt (40-93)
A big wing for the Wolverines, Williams plays off the ball and is a good catch and shoot player from the corners. Shooting 43% from behind the arc, Williams has taken the most threes on the team other than Dug McDaniel.
There is some idea of what Michigan will look to do as this is the second of McDaniel’s suspension from games away from Ann Arbor. In their previous one, UM got beat by Maryland and didn’t look particularly good. Purdue, on the other hand, may have had the most impressive week inside the B1G conference so far this season with wins at Indiana and at Iowa in dominating fashion. Expect nothing less from the Boilers tonight at home in front of their home crowd.