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No. 7 Michigan at Purdue Preview: The Penultimate

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Michigan heads to West Lafayette this evening (7 ET, BTN) to take on a Purdue squad fresh off of a shocking 13-point victory at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Wolverines snagged a down to the wire 2-point victory last season at Mackey; can they make it a more comfortable outcome this time around?

Dear Purdue: please tell us your "winning at Wisconsin" secret.
Dear Purdue: please tell us your "winning at Wisconsin" secret.

The Exposition

After Michigan's cathartic floor slappin' victory on Sunday, the Wolverines can get up and leave the house and talk to people, having been removed from the post-PSU-loss stupor that reigned after last Wednesday.

Michigan sits at 24-5 (11-5), tied with Ohio State*, Michigan State and Wisconsin for second in the conference behind the 13-3 Hoosiers.

The Hoosiers took on the Buckeyes at home last night...and lost. I couldn't believe it either. I never though that it would be Aaron Craft leading the way on the offensive end en route to a 67-58 victory in Bloomington, on IU's Senior Night. If anybody disparages the game of college basketball in your presence on the grounds that "this has been a mediocre year" or "there are no 'great' teams," you can feel free to think less of that person and maybe not invite them to your Spring Game tailgate. Fair is fair.

In short, Michigan once again controls its own destiny for a share of the regular season title. After the brutal losses at Wisconsin and at Penn State, I didn't think we'd be in this position at the end of the season, but here we are. College basketball really is just one big game of Chutes and Ladders.

Aside from the standings gazing, Michigan is in a nice position to finish the year with the opportunity to climb back onto the 1-line, something that seemed very unlikely after last week's defeat at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Jordan Morgan is back and seemingly healthy again (knock on wood); he played 24 minutes against the Spartans and essentially shut down Derrick Nix, who dominated Michigan in the first meeting.

Nik Stauskas of course went down early on Sunday, and it sounds like he should be ready to play tonight. Caris LeVert had a very encouraging performance on Sunday, especially on the defensive end, but it's very easy to brush aside Michigan's 0/12 effort from three when it comes in a winning effort. Stauskas has struggled mightily at times, but he is still Michigan's best shooter. Michigan will need him down the stretch, poor defense or not.

Regardless, you have to think his leash (re: defense) is a bit shorter after LeVert's showing on Sunday.

As for Purdue, the Wolverines dispatched the Boilermakers, 68-53, way back on Jan. 23, before Michigan had suffered its first loss. Michigan actually trailed by one at the half of that one, but a 10-0 run in the first 10 minutes of the second half gave them a lead that they never relinquished.

Even after the upset win at Wisconsin on Sunday, Purdue is 14-15 (7-9), good for ninth in the conference.

Wisconsin vs Purdue Basketball Highlights 3/3/13 (via WisconsinAthletics)

*Well, Michigan is momentarily a half game behind Ohio State, obviously, with a game in hand until tonight's game tips off.

The Opponent

Terone Johnson leads the way with 12.9 ppg on just 39.5% shooting from the field (on 349 attempts, a team high). He's shooting a respectable 35% from beyond the arc.

Freshman 7-footer A.J. Hammons has flashed some pretty serious skill throughout the season, although his stat line against Michigan the first time around wasn't so great: two points, 1/4 shooting, two rebounds, two turnovers. Hammons has failed to reach double digit points in three of his last four games, but he has done so in six of his last nine, including a 30-point effort in a blowout loss in Bloomington. As usual, Michigan needs Jordan Morgan to use his superior positioning and strength to mitigate the height disadvantage here; of course, in a two big lineup (i.e. Morgan+Horford/McGary), Morgan would slide down to the power forward spot.

Senior guard D.J. Byrd can be somewhat of a wild card for the Boilers. He's averaging 10.0 ppg, and does most of his work from beyond the arc, where he shoots 37% (he's attempted 47.5% of Purdue's threes this season). Byrd was just 3/9 from three against Michigan in Ann Arbor, but you'd expect Byrd (and the team as a whole) to shoot better on their own rims. After all, this is college basketball, and I don't need to remind you who Michigan lost to last week.

Younger brother Ronnie Johnson mans the point for Purdue. The 6'0'' freshman had a rough day in Ann Arbor, going 2/10 from the field. Johnson has also had some trouble protecting the ball of late; in his last six games, he's averaging 3.8 turnovers per game. As usual, the 1-1 matchup is an emphatic advantage Michigan, and Burke should be able to continue his pocket picking ways.

Donnie Hale got the start at Wisconsin, whereas Sandi Marcius got it at Iowa (NB: Marcius played 21 minutes against Wisconsin to only seven against Iowa, so, whatever). Marcius, at 6'9'' 268 pounds, has a little more heft to him.

Anthony Johnson and Rapheal Davis are young backup guards. Both are pretty bad from outside, but Davis is making 58% of his twos. Michigan will need to bring Sunday's defensive intensity if they want to avoid the dribble penetration they allowed against Penn State in both games.

The Gameplan

  • FIND THE SHOOTER. In this case, it's Byrd. Pretty simple, really, but it hasn't been as such for Michigan, even in wins (see: Sunday against MSU). If Michigan can keep the Johnson brothers and guys like Davis in front of them, that's fewer opportunities for Byrd to get open. Either way, Byrd will launch from way deep if you let him, so that's also something to consider. Hello face guarding, no help D.
  • Don't let him go HAMmons. Okay, I'll show myself out (but first, let me finish this post). Hammons had an enormous day against IU, despite picking up two quick fouls. I still don't have a great feel for what sort of mobility he has, but, as always, trying to knock him out early with quick fouls a la Meyers Leonard last year is the best way to remove what is probably Purdue's biggest (literally and figuratively) talent. As usual, pick and roll and at least get his shot blocking presence out of the paint.
  • Let 'em shoot. This might contradict Bullet No. 1, but there aren't any deadly shooters on this team other than Byrd. For everyone else, it's all about keeping guys in front. Purdue plays relatively "fast" (64.6 possessions per 40, 4th in the B1G), so Michigan will need to sort out its transition D, which was a mess on Sunday.
Miscellaneous Stats
  • Ronnie Johnson is third in the conference in 2-point percentage during conference play (75.4%). On the ball defense, por favor. However, he's just 23rd in turnover percentage, at 20.3%.
  • A.J. Hammons, during Big Ten play, is 5th in 2-point percentage and free throw rate, 4th in offensive rebounds per game and 3rd in block percentage. Needless to say, he is growing into a pretty frighteningly good true center, and will give teams headaches in the future.
  • Despite coming in sixth in the B1G during conference play in field goal attempts, Terone Johnson is just 39th in free throw rate. /shrugs
Ending Thoughts, Predictions, Etc.
After last week's defeat at Penn State, I'm pretty sure every person writing about Michigan basketball is obligated to note that they could conceivably see Michigan losing this game. Even if Michigan had won that game, Purdue's win at UW should be more than enough to cause some concern to bubble out of the college basketball fan's chaotic subconscious.

If Michigan can stay in front of Purdue's slashers and prevent Hammons from looking like the Monstar he's showed the ability to be, Michigan should come out of this one with its fourth B1G road win of the season.

On paper, Michigan should win this pretty easily. But, games are not played on paper, and Purdue has already demonstrated the ability to pick off a top 5 B1G squad (at the Kohl Center, no less).

This will be close throughout. With Caris LeVert likely to continue getting some significant run, Michigan should have enough defense to stave off the road jitters and whichever freshmen decide to bring a case of the yips to the offensive end.

Michigan 68, Purdue 63.