After starting the year being ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP Poll, the 2021-22 Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team has failed to live up to lofty expectations. After a 31-day drought with no wins starting in mid-December, the Wolverines haven’t looked super confident and have had to fight for their NCAA Tournament lives.
They threw a knockout punch in that fight last night, beating the No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers handily at the Crisler Center, 82-58.
This is the Michigan team many fans expected to see all year long. After 20 games of a stagnant offense and inconsistent defense, the Wolverines might be hitting their stride at just the right time.
Here some takeaways from what may be the most important win this season.
Setting the tone with the big men
One of the reasons Purdue has been ranked highly all season is its strong interior play; the combination of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams gives the Boilermakers a size advantage in every game they play in.
Part of the reason why Michigan was able to win by so much was by dominating inside. Hunter Dickinson (22 points, nine rebounds) and Moussa Diabate were able to get good position and get key buckets every time the Wolverines needed it, getting an advantage in an area Purdue can usually always depend on.
Dickinson and Diabate had nearly double the points of Edey and Williams in that first half (25-13) and with Edey battling foul trouble all game, the Wolverines were able to capitalize on a number of interior opportunities.
It was a well-rounded game for the Michigan big men, as they were also able to limit Purdue’s opportunities inside by staying physical and did an excellent job of defending in the post without fouling.
As a team, the Wolverines played stout defense, not letting Purdue get a rhythm going while holding the No. 1 team in adjusted offense on KenPom to multiple scoreless stretches, including a nearly five-minute stretch in the first half that helped give the Wolverines a lot of confidence.
When Dickinson and Diabate are both firing all cylinders inside, Michigan is a hard team to stop. They’ve developed chemistry too, as Dickinson always manages to find Diabate for easy buckets and momentum-swinging dunks.
If the Wolverines want to get into the NCAA Tournament, they need those two to keep dominating inside.
It’s pretty hard to lose when you can’t miss from three
Michigan shot the lights out from deep, making 12 of its 21 threes (57.1%) and turning a close game into a blowout rather quickly. Funny enough, all of those makes came from Dickinson, Eli Brooks and Caleb Houstan.
I’m sure Dickinson turned the heads of a few NBA scouts in this one, as after being told he needed to improve from three and get less predictable offensively, he’s dramatically improved his jump shot and helped open up Michigan’s offense.
After what’s been an up-and-down fifth-year season for Brooks, he put on his best performance of the year when the Wolverines needed it most. He went 4-from-4 from beyond the arc, including the shot that blew the roof off the Crisler Center and got the Michigan lead up to 19.
Offensively, there have been way too many games this year where you forget Houstan is out there, but this was not one of those games. The consistent buckets from him never let Purdue get any sort of momentum going.
Dickinson has been great all year long, but part of the reason why Michigan has lost more than a few times this year is that they struggle to consistently find offense from other players. Houstan and Brooks were those guys Thursday night, and we’ll see if anyone else steps up in the games to follow this one.
What comes next
The Wolverines still have some work to do if they want to get into the NCAA Tournament, as that was only their second win in their seven games against Quad 1 teams this year.
One of the few benefits of this brutal stretch of schedule to end the year is it gives Michigan many more chances to prove itself against quality opponents for the selection committee. The next chance for a Quad 1 win comes this Saturday, as Michigan hosts the No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes for a 6 p.m. tipoff on ESPN.
Michigan needs to build off this, but this win could be the springboard it needs to make a push for the Big Dance. The Wolverines really unlocked their potential against Purdue and if they play down the stretch of the season like they played last night, they can beat any team in the Big Ten.