If it feels like the Michigan Wolverines are coming off a loss that is because they probably deserved one after Tuesday’s escape against Nebraska. While there were some decent moments against Michigan State, that makes it three straight games of lackluster performances, spanning back to the Northwestern contest.
Nevertheless, the quest for the NCAA Tournament remains, as the Wolverines hover around .500 in the Big Ten. At some point, they will need to notch a couple more signature wins though, and that opportunity begins on Saturday against a No. 4 Purdue squad that is fighting for the conference title.
The Boilermakers are a scary proposition, especially on the road. They are Kenpom’s top-overall offense by a couple points and shoot the ball better than anyone in the Big Ten. This is not great news for a Michigan team that looks anywhere from questionable to disinterested on defense most of the time. This would be a huge resume-booster for the visitors, but the odds of success are not great.
Michigan Wolverines (11-8, 5-4) vs. No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers (19-3, 8-3)
Michigan may own the second-best offense in the conference (after being displaced at the top by the Boilermakers), but so often it seems like a challenge to score. When Hunter Dickinson is off the floor, it is hard to know who to rely on, especially with Caleb Houstan starting to slump again, and there really are no go-to options.
The Wolverines are going to have to find a way to get points consistently to keep up with Purdue, and there should be a few opportunities on this end of the floor. The home team is merely average against both twos and threes and do not steal the ball ever. Obviously scoring in the paint is a tough task against Zach Edey and Trevion Williams, but opponents have found ways this season to keep themselves in it.
This could all be moot though if Michigan continues to fall over on defense. It seems like communication is still a huge issue, not knowing who is staying with the ball handler or who is grabbing the rebound. These lapses will be absolutely punished by Purdue, who offers both deadly three-point shooters and one of the toughest frontcourts in the country.
Dickinson (and Moussa Diabate) simply cannot allow themselves to get into foul trouble. This team is basically lost without Dickinson, and any prolonged stretch without him on the defensive end is going to lead to automatic points for the Boilermakers. Even with a clean game from the bigs, the Purdue offense is likely just going to be too much given its efficiency and versatility.
Nebraska is far from special, but it was encouraging to see DeVante Jones and Eli Brooks have strong games offensively this week. There is not always a ton of dimension to the Michigan offense, but their willingness to take shots and get to the basket are important without many sharpshooters on the wing. Neither is likely to outplay Jaden Ivey, but the guards will have some room on ball screens to get some good looks for the Wolverines.
Four Boilermakers average double-digit scoring, and they can attack in all sorts of ways. Ivey and Stefanovic lead the second-best three-point team in the country, while Edey is hyper-efficient down low and Williams is never an easy matchup. If there was one weakness it would be at the foul line, as Purdue has the worst free throw percentage in conference play. This feels like grasping at straws, but maybe it could play a difference if the game is close.