In need of not only a win, but a quality win, the Purdue Boilermakers will have their second straight chance to upset a Top 10 ranked team when they travel to the Crisler Center to take on the Michigan Wolverines.
Purdue (13-7, 3-4 Big Ten) is currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Their biggest wins have come against Eastern Michigan University, West Virginia University and University of Illinois, all teams who are in the same exact spot as Purdue. They had a chance to earn their first quality win against a Wisconsin Badgers team that was on a three-game losing streak and had only won at Mackey Arena three times, but they let the opportunity slip away in a 72-58 loss.
Beating Michigan would be a great addition to their tournament resume. Michigan’s on a nine-game winning streak, including wins against No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes and No. 3 Michigan State Spartans. They’ve also started 7-0 in the Big Ten. Losing center Mitch McGary looked like it would have put an end to Michigan’s season, but they’ve gone 11-0 without him and were 4-3 with him.
Believing Purdue has a shot to beat Michigan is like believing in Leprechauns. You want to think this group could pull themselves together and play a complete game, but they’ve proven time and time again that they can’t. Barely beating Penn State University, then losing to Northwestern University has shown that Purdue has hit a wall they can’t climb.
Purdue is a team that lives and dies by the three. Against Wisconsin they died, shooting 3-of-17 from three-point range. On the year Purdue is shooting 33.7 percent from three-point range and Michigan is giving up 33.0 percent from three-point range (according to StatSheet.com), so Purdue will need to exploit that one weakness. To do so, they will need to get center A.J. Hammons involved early. It’s becoming a trivial key to Purdue’s offense lately, but when Hammons isn’t having a good game, then Purdue isn’t having a good game.
Hammons should have the upper hand in the post against Michigan’s Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan. Horford and Morgan split the time that McGary used to occupy and combined they have filled his spot particularly well. They will need to keep Hammons flustered, so that way he gives up. Hammons averages 9.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 blocks, but only played 12 minutes against Wisconsin and scored two points. Getting Hammons in early foul trouble would be the easiest way for Michigan to achieve victory, early, over Purdue.
On the opposite end, Purdue will need to figure out how to stop Nik Stauskas. The sophomore has been on a roll this season, scoring in double-digits in all but two games and 20-plus in nine games. He’s averaging 18.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists on the season and 19 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists in Big Ten play. Luckily for Michigan, Purdue doesn’t have a guard who can play smothering defense and keep Stauskas in check.
Pulling off the upset would do wonders for Purdue’s season. Not only would it help their tournament hopes, but it could be the confidence builder they’ve been seeking to push them to the next level. With the season coming down to crunch time, each game becomes even more important and it all starts tomorrow against Michigan.