There are few big men in the Big Ten — and possibly even the country — that can match the physically-imposing frame of Michigan’s 7-foot-1, 265-lb, senior center Jon Teske.
On more than one occasion so far this season, Teske has looked and played like a man amongst boys. While dominant performances against Appalachian State and UMass Lowell are to be expected, Teske also posted stellar statlines against the likes of Creighton, Gonzaga and Louisville. In short, Teske’s unique size has troubled some of the nation’s best teams — mainly because they lack an equivalent big man.
Thursday night though, when 9-6 Purdue travels to Crisler Center, Teske will square off with one of the conference’s few exceptions: 7-foot-3, 250-lb Matt Haarms.
“This is nothing new with Purdue,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard. “They’ve always had a guy that’s pretty similar in height. They’ve always had a guy who’s been an inside presence.”
While it is true that Haarms is just the latest Boilermaker big man to develop during head coach Matt Painter’s tenure, his skill set differs from past bruisers like JaJuan Johnson, A.J. Hammons, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas.
Haarms, who’s averaging 11.5 points on 57.4-percent shooting, is a versatile offensive player — something Howard is aware of.
“They use him both on the perimeter and in the low block,” Howard said. “I’ve seen him where he’s posting up a lot, I’ve seen actions where he’s ducked in on a high-low pass, I’ve seen a few pick-and-pop shots, I’ve seen when teams sag off on him and he’s able to make them pay from the outside. He’s a very skilled player for his size.”
Much like Teske has been for opposing teams this year, Haarms could be a matchup nightmare for the Wolverines. While Teske is strong enough to contest Haarms in the paint, asking him to defend Haarms’ jumper and three-point shot is a tall task.
In moments where Teske’s on the bench, senior forward Austin Davis or sophomore forward Colin Castleton will likely draw the responsibility of guarding Haarms. Davis is a strong and industrious presence in the paint, but gives up five inches to Haarms and, like Teske, will struggle to guard Haarms’ perimeter shot. Castleton, on the other hand, is athletic enough to contest Haarms away from the basket but has yet to show the strength needed to keep opposing post players off the glass.
Anyway you slice it, the Michigan defense will have its hands full with the Dutch big man.
“We just have to be ready to take away some of those duck-ins and high-low passes and stuff like that, but it’s hard to do,” Howard said. “They’re very creative with their offense and the misdirections and surprising you with a few duck-ins here and there.”
Haarms’ shot-blocking ability on the other end is also important to note as he averages 2.3 blocks per game.
While Haarms will undoubtedly be one of the tallest and most skilled bigs the Wolverines face in the Big Ten, this current Purdue squad has been wildly inconsistent offensively. The Boilermakers hung 69 points on Virginia’s tenacious defense and 83 against Minnesota just a week ago, while also scoring just 55, 56 and 37 points in losses to Marquette, Nebraska and Illinois respectively. Meanwhile, Michigan has scored at least 70 points in all but three games this season.
Haarms might manage to get his but if the Wolverines neutralize the rest of Purdue’s offense, even without leading scorer Isaiah Livers, who is still day-to-day with a groin injury, Michigan should get back on track with a win.