Date: Thursday, Jan. 30
Time: 9:00 ET
Location: Ann Arbor, Mich.--Crisler Center
Purdue Boilermakers (13-7, 3-4)
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska have a combined 40-5 record at home this season; Michigan has figured into four of those five losses. Simply put, Michigan's 7-0 start--chiefly three straight wins against top 10 competition--has been nothing short of surprising and amazing.
With Michigan in the Big Ten driver's seat, nothing would stem the tide of the Wolverines' momentum than an upset loss at home. The Wolverines' next three games are "manageable" in the sense that they're not games against three top 10 teams; but, Michigan very well could drop one of the upcoming trio of games (Purdue, @Indiana, Nebraska) if the don't bring it.
Season So Far
The Boilermakers went 10-3 in the non-conference portion of the schedule, with losses to Oklahoma State, Washington State and a no-longer-very-good Butler team. Otherwise, Purdue's best non-conference win was...at West Virginia? There really aren't many other options. Somewhat quietly, Eastern Michigan is actually a solid win this year--but, maybe as a third, fourth or fifth best non-conference win, not as the best or second best. EMU is actually ahead of West Virginia in RPI, so you could make the case that the Eagles represent Purdue's best non-conference win.
In any case, the part of the schedule that truly matters, the Big Ten, is underway, and Purdue has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Despite rebounding 38 percent of their misses, Purdue started the conference slate with a 9-point loss at home to hen No. 3 Ohio State. They followed that up with a close loss at The Barn.
Luckily for Matt Painter, the Boilers rattled off three straight wins, against Nebraska, at Illinois and back at home against Penn State. Now, none of those wins were incredibly convincing (Purdue beat the Nittany Lions by one), but wins are wins. Even in the case of the win against the struggling Illini, winning on the road is always an impressive feat.
The Boilermakers were riding high into Evanston last Tuesday with a three-game winning streak. Instead of extending that streak, the Boilers took a brutal 63-60 double OT loss (akin to Michigan's loss at Penn State on the gridiron this season in terms of aesthetic value).
For a team that isn't particularly great at shooting the three, you'd think that 38 percent from beyond the arc would be good enough to get a win. Well, Purdue shot an unbelievable 22 percent from inside the arc. Yes, 22 percent. PU's 7-footer A.J. Hammons finished with 17 points, but most of that came from the line; he went 3-for-10 from the field.
Purdue followed up that loss with another last Saturday against a Wisconsin squad carrying a three-game losing streak into Mackey Arena. It's unclear whether the Badgers found their old defensive groove or if the Boilermakers just couldn't execute, but, either way, the Boilermakers lost out on the opportunity to snag a quality win against a team that had been struggling big time, especially on the defensive end.
The Johnson brothers (Terone and Ronnie) lead the way for the Boilermakers. Older brother Terone averages 13.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg and shoots 37 percent from beyond the arc. Despite that very good 3-point percentage, Terone is the quintessential slasher. If you'll remember from two years ago, when Michigan took its lone home loss of the season, Johnson dropped 22 points on the Wolverines.
T. Johnson's 3-point shooting has taken major steps each year he's been at Purdue (29%, 31%, 35%, 37%), but he is still a guy who wants to put it on the floor and get in the paint.
Younger brother Ronnie averages 10.6 ppg and 3.7 apg from the point guard spot. He's shooting just 21 percent from beyond the arc during Big Ten play, though. On the other hand, he's shooting 58 percent from inside the arc. He's got some quicks, and this will be yet another test for Derrick Walton on the defensive end. Clearly, Michigan can leave with Ronnie shooting the three (this might become somewhat of a theme).
You'd think that an immensely talented 7-footer would be the headliner of any college basketball team, but C A.J. Hammons checks in at 9.7 ppg and 6.8 rpg for the Boilers. When not in foul trouble, like he was against Wisconsin, he can be pretty hard to stop. Still, in Big Ten play Hammons is just 15th in the conference in 2-point percentage (56 percent), which seems low for a 7-footer.
I haven't watched enough Purdue basketball to be able to confidently assert the following, but it does seem like Hammons can be pushed around a bit at times. I distinctly remember one set against Wisconsin, when Hammons finally entered the game in the second half (after having picked up three fouls in the first 10 minutes of the game) and then got swatted by the 6-foot-7 Nigel Hayes. Now, Hayes is a strong guy, but I'm not sure how a 7-footer gets swatted at all, let alone by a 6-foot-7 guy.
On defense, naturally Hammons is third in the conference in block percentage (11.7 percent). Michigan's guard have to know when to pull up in the lane and shoot, because the odds are good that a shot gets swatted if a Wolverine attacks the rim with Hammons on the floor. But, if Michigan can get a quick two (even three) or Hammons like the Badgers did, this won't matter at all.
Freshman Bryson Scott pitches in 7.5 ppg--he's fourth on the team in field goal attempts but shoots just 37 percent from the field.
Kendall Stephens is a three-point gunner. He leads the team in three-point attempts with 113 (a whopping 43 more than the guy in second), and he's connected on 34 percent of his triples during conference play. If there is a Boilermaker to not allow the space to shoot the three, it's Stephens.
Sterling Carter off the bench is also a three-point gunner, but he's not very accurate (27 percent).
The tremendously named freshman F Basil Smotherman averages 6.1 ppg and is shooting a quite good 79 percent from inside the arc during Big Ten play. With just eight attempts from 3-point land this season, he is not a threat from there.
- Stay in front of Johnson & Johnson. As mentioned before, Terone's 3-point shooting has improved tremendously throughout his time in West Lafayette. However, when he dropped 22 on Michigan in Ann Arbor a couple of years ago, it was by a 9-for-11 effort from inside the arc. Michigan cannot afford to let Johnson get into the lane with regularity; even a miss leaves the door open for Hammons putbacks.
- Get Hammons in foul trouble. Now, Michigan has been and will always be a team heavily dependent on its three-point shooting. With that said, if the Wolverines can get to attacking early in the game, sending Hammons to the bench with two quick fouls would be too much for Purdue to overcome. Obviously Michigan isn't going to throw the ball in to Jordan Morgan or Jon Horford and expecting something Olajuwon-esqe to happen, but guys like Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III would do well to go at the rim in the first 10 minutes or so of the game.
- Keep an eye on Stephens. Purdue is just 9th in the Big Ten in three-point percentage (30.7 percentage), but if they have a guy who can do some damage from beyond the arc, it's Stephens. It's hard to imagine Purdue pulling off the upset in Ann Arbor, but Stephens going off from three will definitely make it a possibility.
- Slow it down. Purdue is 4th in the B1G in possessions per 40 minutes during conference play. Michigan excels in transition, and the Wolverines can push the pace when the opportunity is there. With that said, up against a Purdue team that often struggles to generate offense, limiting their transition opportunities is key. As such, Derrick Walton and Michigan's other ballhandlers would do well to make this a halfcourt game, an amusing though considering how rough Michigan looked in the halfcourt earlier this season.