The door has opened up again for Michigan. Last night, Indiana went down to Ohio State at home, which opened up the door for Michigan to win the Big Ten title if they win their last two games. This makes tonight's game against Purdue on the road incredibly important to Michigan's season. However, given Michigan's recent struggles on the road, this is not a gimme game. Purdue has been inconsistent, but they have improved significantly and play well at home. This gives the Wolverines a major challenge in a very important game to their Big Ten title hopes.
The Boilermakers: Purdue is a team that prides itself on physical play, tough defense, and solid rebounding. Currently, they rank #73 on KenPom in overall efficiency rate, but #40 in adjusted defense. Getting through this tough defense will be a major challenge for Michigan. The Boilermakers are a young team (5 sophomores or younger in their rotation), but they've already proven they can compete with good teams. They have already beaten Wisconsin on the road, Illinois at home, and Iowa at home. Michigan may have beaten Purdue soundly at home in January, but the environment will be much different and Purdue is much better than they were then.
The key players for Purdue this year have been Terone Johnson, A.J. Hammons, and D.J. Byrd. Johnson leads the team in scoring with 12.9 points per game while also grabbing 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Hammons gets 10.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game. Byrd gets 10 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game and is arguably the team's best 3 point shooter, making 36.8% of his shots outside the arch. Byrd has also been a major leader for the Boilermakers and has come through with clutch plays in several big wins this season including the home win against Illinois.
Outside of these three, Ronnie and Anthony Johnson both get a good hunk of play. Ronnie Johnson averages 30.3 minutes, 9.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. Anthony Johnson averages just 19.0 minutes per game, but gets 5.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. However, Anthony has not played much recently and only got 4 minutes against Wisconsin. Last players to note are Rapheal Davis and Donnie Hale. Both are freshmen. Davis averages 5.0 points per game and Hale averages 4.2 points per game and got 13 points recently in 25 minutes against Iowa on the road.
Keys To The Game: Michigan needs to keep up the intensity inside. The Wolverines beat MSU on Sunday without making a single 3 point shot. A big part of this was improved play by the big men, but another part of it was the backcourt refusing to settle for contested 3 point shots and instead attacking the basket. It's unlikely Michigan will shoot as badly outside as they did against MSU when they play Purdue, but if the Wolverines can keep attacking inside, they should be in good shape. Michigan's frontcourt should be able to get some good looks and Purdue has nobody who will be able to match up against Burke. This should either open things up for other players or allow Burke to get to the lane. Both scenarios would be good for Michigan.
Defensively, the Wolverines need to take a similar approach. They limited one of the best frontcourts in the Big Ten when they played MSU on Sunday and they will need to do much of the same against Purdue. The Boilermakers are not as good as MSU inside, but Hammons can do damage if he's allowed, such as his 20 points against MSU and his 30 point night against Indiana. Morgan and McGary will have to limit him like they did in the first matchup when he scored only 2 points. Limiting Hammons and slowing down things like backdoor cuts and drives to the basket should put Michigan in good shape to win this one since Purdue is not known as a great outside shooting team.
Players To Watch: First player to watch is Trey Burke. With Oladipo's performance against OSU on Tuesday night, the door has opened wide for Burke to take a commanding lead in the Player of the Year races. He needs to back that up against Purdue. Next player is Jordan Morgan. He played great against MSU, but fouled out late. Michigan will need a similar performance against Purdue. The final player is Nik Stauskas. His injury status is not yet known, but Michigan could surely use his 3 point shooting threat outside. LeVert did well replacing him on Sunday, but it's better to have both players than just one.
Prediction: Michigan by 4
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