Since upsetting then-No. 11 Wisconsin at Crisler Center last Thursday night, the Michigan men’s basketball team (8-7 Big Ten, 18-10 overall) has hit a bit of a rocky road.
In two away contests against Minnesota and Rutgers over the past week, the Wolverines were pushed to their limit, facing deficits late and needing swift responses.
On Sunday in Minneapolis, the Golden Gophers took their largest lead of the game at 68-60 with just 2:54 remaining in regulation. Though Michigan battled back and sent the game to overtime off an NBA-range three from redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson with two ticks left on the clock, Minnesota regained the lead with 2:03 left in the extra period and held on for an 83-78 win.
Three days later in Piscataway, the Scarlet Knights took a 56-52 lead with 6:46 remaining following a five-minute, 15-4 run. This time, the Wolverines responded with a 10-0 run of their own — bookended by baskets from sophomore forward Moritz Wagner — to regain the lead and escape with a 68-64 victory.
The Golden Gophers were projected to be a tough matchup for Michigan — both teams sat at 6-6 in the Big Ten — while last-place Rutgers proved to be a more challenging foe than expected. But in both cases, the Wolverines had only themselves to blame for allowing the outcome of the game to be decided in the final stretch.
Though the outcome ended up in their favor in Piscataway, it went the other way in Minneapolis. It seems likely that the outcome should be decided much earlier on Saturday in Michigan’s upcoming matchup against No. 14 Purdue (12-3, 23-5).
The Wolverines will return to Ann Arbor to take on the conference-leading Boilermakers, who are in the midst of a six-game win streak, in their final home game of the season. A contest in Crisler Center should be a welcome sight, as Michigan has dropped just three games on its home court this year. But the Wolverines will be up against the toughest task they have faced in their own arena.
Purdue boasts the best offense in the Big Ten, averaging 81 points per game, and ranks as the fourth-best defense as well, allowing 66.2 per game. Those lofty numbers give them a plus-14.9 scoring margin — also tops in the conference.
Contributing to their top-ranked offense, the Boilermakers lead the Big Ten in both field-goal percentage and 3-point field-goal percentage, averaging clips of 48.1 and 41.3, respectively. That could spell major trouble for Michigan, which ranks last and second-to-last on defense in those same categories, allowing its opponents to shoot 46.4 percent from the floor and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, respectively.
The Wolverines will go up against standout forward Caleb Swanigan, who leads his team with a double-double average of 18.6 points and 12.9 rebounds per game on the season. He is flanked in the middle by forward Vincent Edwards and assisted off the bench by center Isaac Haas, both of whom also average double-digit points with 11.8 and 13.4 points, respectively.
In order to make up for their deficiencies on the defensive end, the Wolverines will need to exploit one of Purdue’s key weaknesses: turnovers. And fortunately for them, that happens to be one of their biggest strengths.
While the Boilermakers sit at the bottom of the conference with a minus-1.2 turnover margin — committing an average of 13.4 per game — Michigan occupies the top spot, forcing an average of 12.8 while committing just 9.5 by comparison.
Even so, the Wolverines will have their work cut out for them Saturday against the stiff challenge that is Purdue. In this case, if the outcome of the game isn’t decided until late, it may prove to be a victory in and of itself.