It’s not every day in college basketball you get to witness two dominant 7-footers facing off, but Michigan fans will get the pleasure of doing so on Thursday when the No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers come to Ann Arbor.
With them comes 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey, frankly put, the best player in college basketball so far this season. Rival him with the Michigan Wolverines’ own 7-foot-1 Hunter Dickinson and you get a spectacle at Crisler Center.
Let’s dig into this matchup and the other players to watch as the Wolverines host the No. 1 team in the country on Thursday evening.
Edey vs. Dickinson
Edey leads the Big Ten averaging 21.5 points per game while also bringing in 13.2 rebounds, the second-most in the country. When you add on the fact he shoots 61.4% from the floor, you are looking at one of the most impressive players nationally.
What has made Edey so much better this season is his enhanced stamina. Last season, Purdue started him but couldn’t keep him on the court for more than a few minutes at a time, which is why he averaged 19 minutes per game. He was a liability when teams would get him at the top of the key on defense and he’d get into a lot of foul trouble because of it.
This year has been much different. He’s added on muscle — he’s 295 pounds — and plays more than 30 minutes a game. Edey’s yet to foul out this season and uses his sheer size and strength to score and rebound at will.
Somehow, Dickinson looks small comparatively speaking. Last year, the Wolverines and Boilermakers split their matchups in large part because of Dickinson. In their two games, he was 20-for-32 overall and averaged 25 points, 5.5 rebounds and three assists. His positioning in the post and shooting from the perimeter made things extremely difficult on Edey and the Purdue defense.
In Michigan’s 82-58 win at home, Dickinson was 4-for-6 from behind the arc. Expect Juwan Howard to get his big fella on the perimeter to try and replicate that performance.
Kobe Bufkin vs. Fletcher Loyer
For the Wolverines to win this game, they are going to need an excellent performance out of Kobe Bufkin. We’ve seen flashes from him, as the sophomore has three 20-point games this season, but they’ll need the Bufkin that is knocking down threes, facilitating, crashing the boards and playing lockdown defense to really give them a chance.
That especially reigns true if Jett Howard is unable to go with the ankle injury he sustained against Minnesota over the weekend. A large portion of the offensive game plan will revolve around Bufkin if that is the case, so he’s going to need to step up.
On the other end poses quite the challenge, as Fletcher Loyer has been one of the best freshman guards in the country this season. He just was named co-Big Ten Player of the Week last week thanks to a 27-point performance in a win over Nebraska, followed by another 17-point game at Michigan State.
Loyer shoots really well from deep (36.4%) and knows when to kick to Edey in the post, when to cut toward the hoop, and when to stick back along the perimeter for an open look.
Michigan will need Bufkin to slow him down while staying out of foul trouble, which has been a problem as of late, to have success on Thursday.
Tip-off between the Wolverines and Boilermakers on Thursday is at 9 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.