Different mediocre Big Ten team, same exact story. The Michigan Wolverines were extremely fortunate to escape Happy Valley with the win on Tuesday, shooting ice cold for much of the game and looking completely helpless on defense for the entire first half. The win keeps Michigan’s Tournament hopes alive, but now comes the make-or-break stretch.
Up first is Purdue, who has moved up to No. 3 in the country — and into a tie for first place — since last Saturday’s contest. Though the home team came out victorious in West Lafayette, Michigan had plenty to be proud of, hanging tough with one of the nation’s best teams and doing everything it could to earn another much-needed Quad 1 win.
The Wolverines looked much better in losses against teams like Illinois and Purdue than in wins over Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State, so maybe this squad will just match its level of competition. With games against Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin over the next 10 days, Michigan will hope that is the case. A couple upsets here are necessary if this team is going to go dancing.
No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers (21-3, 10-3) vs. Michigan Wolverines (12-9, 6-5)
Saturday’s loss is still fresh in everyone’s mind, so there is no need to dive too deep into the breakdown here. The Boilermakers really did not have an answer for Hunter Dickinson, who put the team on his back with 28 points, which included a pair of threes and a couple long jumpers as well. The dynamic sophomore racked up the stats against Penn State as well (19 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks) but was fairly inefficient. He absolutely must be both efficient and prolific for Michigan to have a shot at the upset.
The supporting cast will need to step up regardless, as the only path to victory is in a shootout; Michigan put up 1.17 PPP and still came up short over the weekend. DeVante Jones, Eli Brooks, and Caleb Houstan must be willing to launch some shots from deep and just hope that some go in. The Wolverines’ 44.4 percent from deep last weekend was what kept them in the game, but Tuesday’s struggles against the Nittany Lions are unfortunately probably more representative.
Defensively, there really is not a great solution. Zach Edey and Trevian Williams made their impact known as expected, both scoring in double figures and requiring some caution from Dickinson and other Michigan defenders in regards to fouling. Meanwhile, Jaden Ivey was 0-for-6 from three but still unstoppable, consistently attacking the lane and going 8-for-12 from two. This was a problem again against Penn State and is a killer against top teams.
The Wolverines certainly need another huge night from Dickinson and also have to get lucky with some threes to keep themselves in the game. This is not a good matchup for Moussa Diabate, but he will definitely need to contribute more than his five combined points over the last two games. The bench did extremely little in West Lafayette, so getting a few of the rotational players to chip in could be the difference between a critical win and another missed opportunity.
The Purdue bigs are going to be a factor, but someone needs to get in front of Ivey. While the Boilermakers will probably not shoot under 30 percent from deep again, Michigan really needs to find a way to contest shots and make it difficult for Purdue to get the looks it wants, especially at the basket. The Wolverines will need to get a little lucky, but there is no way they can win if the guards and wings keep getting clear paths to the hoop.