In the last week and a half alone, the Big Ten has separated itself into three distinct categories.

There are the good teams: Wisconsin and Ohio State.

There are the bad teams: Northwestern and Minnesota.

And then there are the rest.

They’ve shown flashes of something special, but no one really knows what to make of them.

Tomorrow, Michigan will have an opportunity to distance itself from the pack when it travels to West Lafayette to face Purdue.

The Wolverines (2-0 Big Ten, 14-3 overall) have a chance to begin the Big Ten season 3-0 for the second time in three years.

The game also begins an important three-game stretch for the Wolverines. Tomorrow’s contest is followed by two home games, one with Penn State, the other a second matchup with Purdue.

In the past, Mackey Arena has not been welcoming to the Maize and Blue. The Wolverines have not won at Purdue since 2002-03.

Last season, Michigan’s NCAA Tournament chances took a huge blow when the Wolverines lost to the Boilermakers, 84-70. In that game, guards Dion Harris and Jerret Smith, along with wing Lester Abram, did not play because of various injuries.

Abram is also the lone player on Michigan’s roster who has won at Purdue (a 78-67 victory over the 24th-ranked Boilermakers on Feb. 19, 2003).

“It’s a different type of gym and different type of scene down there,” Harris said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game because they are a tough team.”

Purdue’s experience only makes it tougher.

Coming off last year’s injury-marred campaigns, fifth-year seniors Carl Landry and David Teague lead the Boilermakers, and are making the most out of their final seasons. Landry is a leading contender for Big Ten Player of the Year, quietly averaging more than 19 points and just under seven rebounds per game.

The Boilermakers (1-2, 12-5) are headed in the opposite direction. After starting the season 10-2, including resume-building wins over Oklahoma and Virginia, Purdue has been sliding, losing three of its last five games.

The recent losing trend includes defeats to Indiana State and Minnesota, as well as a 27-point drubbing at the hands of Indiana Wednesday night.

But all of those games were on the road. The Boilermakers still have a perfect 10-0 record in the friendly confines of Mackey Arena.

With its own trip to Madison coming up next Wednesday, Purdue is in dire need of win No. 11 at home.

“I think we’ve all seen that Purdue is going to be in the thick of things when it’s all said and done in our conference,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “We’re hoping to be there ourselves, and certainly we recognize that it is going to be a big challenge.”

Just as the Boilermakers must win to keep themselves in the Big Ten picture, Michigan realizes the impact a big road win would have on its place in the conference standings.

“I think if we can go down there on Saturday and get the win, it will open up a lot of things for us,” Harris said. “I think we can really get some separation if we are able to handle our business.”

Michigan at Purdue
Matchup: Michigan 14-3-0; Purdue 12-5-0
When: Saturday 8 P.M.
Where: Mackey Arena
TV/Radio: ESPN Plus

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