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Preview: Michigan vs. #18 Purdue

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In need of another signature victory, Michigan has the perfect opportunity on Saturday when it hosts #18 Purdue at the Crisler Center.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

The Basics

Who: #18 Purdue Boilermakers (20-5, 8-4 Big Ten)

When: Saturday, February 13th, at 2:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Where: Crisler Center -- Ann Arbor, Mich.

Spread: Vegas: +1.5 | KenPom: L, 71-72 (47% WP)

The Stage

As a #10 seed on Bracket Matrix, Michigan is on the bubble and in need of another quality win. While Michigan has beaten Maryland (#5 in RPI) and Texas (#20 in RPI), those are the only RPI top-100 wins that it has, and they won't be enough to carry Michigan to the NCAA Tournament. Assuming the Wolverines handle business vs. Northwestern at home, they likely need to win two of the following three games to be safe heading into the Big Ten Tournament: vs. Purdue, at Ohio State, and at Wisconsin.

The first of those games is tomorrow. And it's the only one at home.

A loss doesn't sink Michigan, but it starts to put U-M behind the eight ball. Then the Wolverines are seeking to win in Columbus and Madison or splitting the two and hoping to upset Maryland in College Park or Iowa at home. That's not an ideal scenario. But a win would be a great boost for not only Michigan's resume but also its confidence.

As for the daily "When will Caris LeVert return?" question, the answer is that we still don't know. At his Tuesday presser before the Minnesota game, John Beilein said that LeVert was pain-free and could make the call to return if he wanted. However, Beilein also implied that LeVert still hadn't been full-go in practices yet. Ultimately, LeVert sat out against the Gophers, and we'll surely hear more from Beilein about it this afternoon.

Also, Michigan plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its basketball program tomorrow and boost support for the Chad Tough Foundation by wearing special t-shirts. Click here for the details, and click here if you want to donate to #ChadTough.

The Opponent

Purdue has the same Big Ten record as Michigan (8-4), but the Boilermakers are one of the better teams in the country. They are #16 on KenPom and fresh off an 82-81 overtime win against Michigan State in West Lafayette. That was a nice win for a Purdue team that hadn't earned a signature victory since the non-conference season, suffering understandable road losses to Iowa and Maryland. They did have that one puzzling road loss to Illinois, but, other than that, they won the games that they were supposed to win.

On offense, Purdue is 49th overall and sixth in the Big Ten in adjusted efficiency (110.9). Most of Purdue's scoring comes inside the arc as the Boilermakers are 43rd in two-point shooting (52.5 pct.) and crash the glass with a vengeance (28th in OR%). However, most of these points come in the form of jumpers because they don't get to the bucket often (340th in pct. of shots at the rim) or draw many shooting fouls (226th in FTR). They're also not the best three-point shooting team (147th in 3P%) but are streaky and capable of going off on a given night. Their biggest weakness, though, is turnovers. Their rank in turnover rate isn't awful (153rd), but it's a problem that always pops up in their losses.

Defense is the strength of this Purdue outfit, but it's not as stingy as it used to be. When Purdue and Michigan faced off in their first meeting, the Boilermakers were first in adjusted defensive efficiency. Now, they're just ninth (91.6). What's changed is that their shooting defense (4th in eFG%) became easier to solve. They have allowed Big Ten offenses to make 47.2 percent of their twos (5th in B1G) and 35.0 percent of their threes (8th in B1G). But, overall, Purdue still has the imposing size to protect the basket (17th in pct. of shots allowed at the rim) and perimeter defenders to limit three-point tries (49th in 3PA%). Therefore, teams have to rely on hitting mid-range jumpers because second-chance opportunities (4th in DR%) and free throws (31st in FTR) will not be available.

The Personnel

The only appropriate way to start this section is to discuss Purdue's twin towers. The Boilermakers are led by seven-foot senior center A.J. Hammons, who averages 14.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG, and 2.7 BPG in just 24.0 MPG. Just imagine how his per-game stats would look if he played seven or eight more minutes each game. That's why Hammons is in line to be on the All-Big Ten first team. Offensively, he's incredibly effective as a scorer around the rim (59.6 2P%) and a menace on the offensive glass (12.6 OR%). Defensively, his presence not only deters opponents from attacking the hoop, he often swats those that dare challenge him (10.7 blk%) and grabs the misses that do get over his outstretched hand (24.0 DR%). When Hammons needs to catch his breath, Purdue subs in 7-foot-2 sophomore center and Ivan Drago doppelganger Isaac Haas, who's recorded 10.0 PPG and 4.0 RPG in just 14.9 MPG. Goodness. He's a poor man's Hammons. He doesn't finish, rebound, or protect the paint quite as well as the starter does. However, Haas draws contact more often (65.4 FTR) and knocks down a good chunk of his freebies (70.6 FT%).

Standing next to Hammons and Haas in the frontcourt is 6-foot-9 freshman forward Caleb Swanigan, who has posted 9.8 PPG and 8.8 RPG. It's clear that Swanigan is an excellent rebounder, particularly on the defensive end (27.4 DR%), but he's an offensive liability for the Boilermakers (91.3 ORtg). His shot selection needs work. Despite converting well close to the rim, he tends to fire lots of mid-range jumpers, which is why his two-point percentage is 49.3, and an unhealthy number of threes (16-of-58, 27.6 3P%). And that's not even his biggest issue. That would be his carelessness with the ball in his hands. His 28.2 turnover rate is the highest in the Big Ten among qualified players.

The starting small forward is 6-foot-8 sophomore Vince Edwards, who also will slide down to the 4 when Swanigan needs to take a seat. Edwards is Purdue's second-leading scorer (10.4 PPG) and very versatile. He can knock down pull-up mid-range jumpers, though he may shoot more of those than he should because he can drive and finish at the rim very well due to his length and drill three-pointers (37.2 3P%). Edwards also contributes as a rebounder (5.2 RPG), making more of his mark on the offensive boards (7.8 OR%), and distributor, posting a Purdue-best 3.1 APG and 21.4-percent assist rate. However, he's seen an uptick in his minutes recently because his backup, 6-foot-7 junior Kendall Stephens, has been out for personal reasons, and that might be wearing him down. He's struggled from the field his last three games, scoring 23 points on 27 shots.

At shooting guard, Purdue will start 6-foot-6 senior Rapheal Davis, who averages 9.8 PPG and 3.9 RPG. On offense, Davis will either slash to the bucket, where he's a so-so finisher (42.7 2P%), or hang on the perimeter for catch-and-shoot three-pointers (40.6 3P%). He's pretty streaky as an outside shooter, but he just had one of his best performances, draining 6-of-8 treys in a 24-point effort against Michigan State. Nonetheless, defense is where Davis has made a name for himself, not offense. He's the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and, though he's not one to record lots of steals or blocks, he's a lockdown perimeter defender that shuts offensive stars down. Behind him on the depth chart are 6-foot-4 sophomore Dakota Mathias and 6-foot-5 freshman Ryan Cline, both of which will play about 15.0 MPG and are low-usage three-point specialists with solid assist rates. They each make about 36 percent of their threes.

The point guard duties will be split between 5-foot-10 sophomore P.J. Thompson and 6-foot-3 senior Johnny Hill, though Thompson has seen the lion's share of the minutes as the starter the past four games. Purdue made the switch back to Thompson as the starter because he has the best offensive efficiency in the Big Ten (138.7). While some of this can be attributed to his ability to knock down triples (38.9 3P%) and get to the free-throw line (61.1 FTR, 81.8 FT%), most of it is due to his incredible assist-to-turnover rate (6.5). In his last 10 games, Thompson has recorded 27 assists to just one turnovers. That's nuts. On the other hand, Hill is much sloppier with the basketball, posting a 26.1-percent turnover rate. But he contributes in other ways. Whereas Thompson is more likely to hang around the perimeter, Hill likes to attack off the dribble because he can convert in traffic (59.2 2P%), create contact (67.1 FTR, 81.1 FT%), and grab offensive boards (8.1 OR%).

The Keys

Minimize the Damage Inside: Purdue thrives in the paint thanks to its incredible size, scoring efficiently within five feet of the basket and hauling in lots of offensive rebounds. Michigan needs to keep the Boilermakers outside, which is much easier said than done. Though the Wolverines were equals on the boards with Purdue in the first meeting, Purdue ran layup lines, making 21-of-36 twos (58.3 pct.). Given that Purdue is not the strongest three-point shooting team and Michigan's perimeter defense has become a sieve, the Wolverines should pack in the defense and pray Purdue is off on its jumpers.

Push the Pace: When Michigan gets defensive stops, it needs to get the ball in Derrick Walton's hands and push the tempo. Even if Purdue's defense has softened just a bit in Big Ten play, it's still one of the best units in the country, and there are few half-court defenses harder to crack. In fact, opponents have an eFG% of just 41.0 against Purdue in non-transition possessions. However, when opponents are able to run the fast break, that eFG% rises to 51.3. Michigan wants to see the Boilermakers' half-court defense as little as possible, so that means pushing the pace and getting shots in transition.

Finish in Traffic: MGoBlog's Ace Anbender penned a post about how Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Caris LeVert are the only two Wolverines that can get to the rim off the dribble and score at a high rate. That's a problem, and it doesn't help that Michigan is about to face a two-point defense anchored by seven-footers. This was a problem the first time these two teams met as the Wolverines made just 12-of-34 twos (35.3 pct.) -- their worst two-point shooting effort of the season. Michigan can't rely solely on mid-range jumpers if it wants to beat Purdue. It needs to find a way to not only get to the tin but also to put the ball in the hole. If Michigan wants to be moderately successful in this endeavor, Zak Irvin needs to bounce back and take Caleb Swanigan off the bounce.

The Prediction

Purdue still is the worst Big Ten matchup for Michigan. Offensively, the Boilermakers have the slashers and big men to get the ball into the paint for easy twos against a defense that is not a cohesive unit. And it's hard to expect that Michigan will pack in its defense and tempt Purdue to win with jumpers since that's what they should have done but did not do against Minnesota earlier this week. Defensively, the Boilermakers should have fun against a Michigan offense that's been stagnant lately. Michigan should have trouble going inside and scoring over the top of A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, while Purdue likely will put Rapheal Davis on Duncan Robinson to take him out of the game completely. Unless Derrick Walton has a second straight virtuoso performance, that will put a whole bunch of pressure on Zak Irvin to carry this offense, and he won't be able to tomorrow.

Purdue 82, Michigan 72