Preview: Michigan vs Purdue - Boilers Last Stand?

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight's road trip to Ann Arbor may be do or die for an inconsistent Boilermaker squad.

By the Numbers:

Purdue Team Michigan
13-7 (3-4) Record 15-4 (7-0)
NR Ranking #10
108 RPI 13
91 BPI 18
106 KenPom 7
88 Sagarin 4

January 30, 2014

9:00 PM EST - ESPN

Skinny:

After an inexplicable loss to Northwestern and fading in the second half versus Wisconsin, Purdue is in do or die mode and desperately needs to pick up some wins. When it comes to needing a key win, what better than a potential road upset of one of the hottest teams in the conference? If Purdue can pull off the shocker and wrap things up this weekend with another road win at Penn State, things will be looking considerably brighter for Painter and his Boilermakers. If they lose tonight? Well that might be all she wrote for this season.

On the other side is Michigan, a team that was looking vulnerable heading into conference play, especially with the McGary injury. The Wolverines had a relatively easy transition into conference play, using the first few games to gain some momentum and get everyone in sync. Now with the competition drastically increased, Michigan has kept up the momentum and has been rolling through the Big Ten. A lot of people put Michigan as their projected conference champs after the State game, and one has to wonder if there was a bit of overvaluing a win over a team without two of their best players. Nonetheless, the schedule softens a bit for Michigan this week as they face off against Purdue and Indiana. If Michigan keeps it up, this week should be easy enough. The question is can we expect a letdown from the Wolverines recent winning streak?

Projected Starting Lineup:

Purdue Pos. Michigan
Ronnie Johnson G Derrick Walton Jr.
Terone Johnson G Caris LaVert
Rapheal Davis G Nik Stauskas
Basil Smotherman F Glenn Robinson III
A.J. Hammons C/F Jordan Morgan

Players to Watch:

A.J. Hammons: If Hammons is to have a big night, tonight is the night. We realize Purdue needs a win and I'm sure Hammons does as well, but the pressure on the sophomore increases immensely when you factor in Michigan's lack of Mitch McGary. Hammons has a considerable size advantage over Jordan Morgan, while still holding the advantage over Jon Horford, and will need to capitalize early and often tonight. There's been some NBA talk pertaining to A.J. and if he wants to get there he needs to step up when his team needs him. So if Purdue is to win tonight, Hammons needs to cut down on silly turnovers (stop shuffling your feet and hesitating before going up to the rim), avoid getting into foul trouble within the first minute (oh hey Wisconsin game) and demand the ball down low. Rinse, lather, repeat. Even more so when help will likely not be available thanks to Michigan running a considerably smaller lineup nowadays.

Terone Johnson: Like Hammons, this has to be Terone's night if Purdue wants to win. Terone is the team's senior leader and will need to anchor the team and keep them composed if they want to have a chance. The offense can't fall into needless passing around the perimeter and settling for errant jump shots. It can't neglect the inside, where Purdue has a size advantage. And most importantly, Purdue's guards cannot dribble down the court once again with their head down forcing up ugly, contested layups. Terone isn't the point guard but he's usually the most versed player on the court and will need to keep the team set to script. Oh, and if he can get hot tonight it'd go a long way. Purdue will be hoping for another 32 point performance like he had last time facing off against Michigan.

Nik Stauskas: Stauskas has been gaining quite a bit of steam and NBA Draft talk as of late thanks to the recent Wolverine winning streak and his surge in production. Everyone knows Nik can hit lights out from beyond the arc, but the recent explosion of his entire game has finally allowed Stauskas to bring a well rounded, balanced game to the table. Stauskas should be able to benefit against a Purdue team that has struggled keeping track of opposing teams three point shooters. With Stauskas likely to have his fair amount of open looks, if he can get hot from outside it'll put Purdue in a very difficult spot. The Boilermakers can't consistently score and if this game turns into a shootout then it's hard to see Michigan being challenged much here.

Jordan Morgan / Jon Horford: Without McGary, both Morgan and Horford have been covering the five and anchoring Michigan's frontcourt. Both guys will likely have their hands full with Purdue's starting center A.J. Hammons and will have the difficult task of slowing him down. Like I said for the Wisconsin game, the best strategy is to simply draw cheap fouls and get Hammons off the court. It worked this weekend for Wisconsin and if Morgan and Horford can take care of Hammons, it'd put all the pressure on Purdue's guards. If I'm Michigan that sounds pretty good to me. Of course the duo needs to avoid foul trouble themselves, especially with the rest of the starting rotation being on the smaller side.

Staff Comments:

Purdue Perspective: If Purdue wants any realistic possibility of making it to the NCAA Tournament, they need to win tonight. I don't think they have what it takes to pick up the win in Ann Arbor tonight, but at the same time, Michigan lost to Charlotte earlier in the season and is bound for a letdown sooner or later. If Hammons is on he'll have no problem with Michigan's frontcourt, but of course Hammons production is more or less a coin flip. As Painter has repeatedly mentioned, the team needs to play smarter basketball. Painter's pointed out several major issues, such as guards blindly driving into traffic and wings repeatedly firing off bad threes because they recently made one or two. Purdue needs to make good decisions with the ball, feed the big man and not waste possessions on poor shots. Defensively, Hammons needs to avoid foul trouble, someone needs to stick to Stauskas like glue and the defense needs to stay alert and close out better on shooters. Purdue could win if everything aligns perfectly (or if Michigan tanks it tonight), but I've seen enough to realize they're capable of sticking around for 30-35 minutes, but not a full 40.

Michigan Perspective by Josh Stern (@jmstern23): These next two games for Michigan are absolutely crucial. After getting through three top-10 teams in the last 10 days, Michigan must continue to play at a high level against every single team in the conference. That starts Thursday against Purdue, a pesky team that is better than it’s 3-4 conference record suggests. Michigan will have its hands full with center AJ Hammons, a legit 7-footer who could cause fits for both Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan down low. On the perimeter, both Ronnie and Terone Johnson provide quickness and outside shooting, and could be very tough defend. The key for Michigan is setting the pace early, slowing the game down and using a lot of the shot clock to create good possessions. This could be a trap game with a tough road test at Indiana looming on Sunday, but I expect Michigan to comfortably pull out the victory at home.

Prediction:

Early on Purdue should be able to stick around with Michigan, even more so if they slow the pace down (which is likely to happen). There should be a level of urgency and look for the team to feed Hammons often as long as he can stay out of foul trouble. Outside shooting for Purdue has been hit or miss but the way the team has played this year I'd almost expect a solid performance in the first half. When all is said and done, look for Purdue to surprise some people early and look like they're going to steal a win tonight. Of course, after half time...

Look for Michigan to finally wake up and for Nik Stauskas and company to start hitting from outside at an alarming rate. With the game taking place in Ann Arbor, the momentum swing should do enough to rattle the Boilermakers and start creating mental mistakes. With Purdue likely to start forcing shots, Michigan will be capable of opening the lead up even more and will cruise the last few minutes to a comfy double digit victory. When everything is said and done, Purdue hasn't showed that they can play up to potential for a full 40 minutes and until they do so, it'll be hard for them to pull off wins in games like these. Especially when they're on the road versus one of the hottest teams in the conference.

Purdue 64 Michigan 77

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