A seven seed in Bracket Matrix. A top-12 team per Kenpom. It may be with a different coach, but once again, the Michigan Wolverines seem to be coming together and the right time. Wednesday’s victory over Rutgers was one of the biggest of the year considering the environment and the absence of Isaiah Livers yet again. The middle of the Big Ten remains wide open, and Saturday’s contest represents another chance to sneak towards double bye territory.
With five games remaining on the schedule, Michigan is a clear favorite in two games and a likely underdog in another two. What remains is a rematch with Purdue, losers of three straight, but a team that took the Wolverines to double overtime in Ann Arbor. Much has happened to both sides since that contest in early January, but the stakes will be higher this time around.
The Boilermakers are likely headed to the NCAA Tournament, but losing this one would put them three games under .500 in conference play. They will certainly be desperate for a win, especially at home. However, Michigan proved earlier this week that it can handle the environment. It may not be the favorite, but this game is there for the taking.
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Share the love: The Wolverines tallied just six assists against Rutgers — five from Zavier Simpson — but still came out with the win. This was an anomaly, though, as the previous three games saw them dish out a total of 50 dimes. The first game against Purdue was along this line, with Simpson recording nine assists and David DeJulius adding six as well. Michigan is at its best when the ball is moving, and this is key against a defense that ranks near the bottom in opponent field goal percentage. Many times this year the jumpers have simply not fallen, but this makes finding the extra pass even more crucial.
Contain Williams: When the Boilermakers visited Ann Arbor in January, it came during the period when Michigan was enjoying giving up approximately 50 points to a singular player on the opposing team each game. For Purdue, that lucky contestant was Trevion Williams, who dropped 36 points with a 134 offensive rating and 20 total rebounds. Of course, Williams has not topped 20 points in the 11 games since and has a total of one three pointer since drilling a clutch triple to give his team the lead over Michigan with 90 seconds to go in regulation. Purdue’s offensive efficiency is eighth in the Big Ten; prevent one player from dropping 30+ and the rest should be manageable.
Working through the rookie woes: Franz Wagner did not have the greatest start to his collegiate career, and it sounds like his shooting stroke is still being affected by his early injury. Nevertheless, the exciting freshman has put together back-to-back double-digit performances and has scored at least eight points in seven of his last eight games. The threes are simply not falling as much as he would like, but he finding success inside the arc (8-for-12 on twos in the past week) and is also developing a nose for rebounds. Wagner is a good enough shooter that the jumpers will start to fall, but it is very encouraging to see him impact the game in other ways even if he gets cold from outside. With over 20 games now under his belt, this is his chance to really step into a predominant role heading into the stretch run.
Everything seems to be on the up for the Wolverines. A healthy Livers would definitely help, but even without him, the team is putting it all together. 70-66 Michigan.
Teams: Michigan Wolverines (17-9, 8-7) at Purdue Boilermakers (14-13, 7-9)
Date: Saturday, February 22, 2020
Location: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, IN
Time: 2:00 p.m. ET
Television/Streaming: ESPN/Watch ESPN