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Big Ten Thursday Preview and Open Thread: Can Michigan Wolverines Beat Purdue Boilermakers without Caris LeVert?

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The Michigan State Spartans will also take on the Illinois Fighting Illini without Denzel Valentine.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

At long last, there’s finally some Big Ten games taking place on a Thursday. Thursday had become a bit of a forgotten day with Christmas Eve and New Years’ Eve taking place on one the past two weeks, but we’ve now got some action. There may only be two games this week, but both have the chances to be pretty good contests. Purdue hosts Michigan in a very intriguing game, and Illinois takes on a Michigan State team that is still without Denzel Valentine.

Here’s a look at both games.

Game of the Night: Michigan Wolverines vs. #20 Purdue Boilermakers (7:00 P.M. ET | ESPNU)

This is going to be a very telling game for two potentially top teams, especially Purdue. Coming off a disappointing loss to Iowa, the Boilermakers have to be determined to get back in the win column and start validating the hype they created during the non-conference schedule. For Michigan, this game is a chance to prove they truly are one of the upper-echelon teams in the Big Ten.

Unfortunately, the potential absence of Michigan’s Caris LeVert could prevent this game from being as good as it could be. The Wolverines best player, LeVert is dealing with a foot injury and is a game-time decision for tonight. Even if he does play, it is likely he’ll be limited.

That doesn’t mean Michigan has no chance to win. They’ve got solid players in Derrick Walton (9.9 points, 5.1 rebounds), Duncan Robinson (11.9 points) and Zak Irvin (9.1, 3.6 rebound, 3.1 assists) who have shown the ability to score. And the Wolverines managed to blow out a pesky Penn State team, 79-56, without LeVert on Saturday.

But beating Purdue will take a much greater effort. The Boilermakers may be coming off a loss, but they’re a very dangerous team. The most interesting thing about this matchup will be how Michigan tries to handle Purdue’s size. The Wolverines play a small lineup and the only big men to get consistent playing time are Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal. Neither of them are close to as good as Purdue’s double-headed monster of A.J. Hammons (13.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.7 blocks) and Isaac Haas (11.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.4 blocks) or freshman forward Caleb Swanigan (10.2 points and 8.9 rebounds). The Wolverines may try to counter Purdue’s size with quickness and shooting, but the Boilermakers aren’t bad in those areas either. The Wolverines have a shot in this one, but it’s not going to be easy.

The Rest:

-Illinois Fighting Illini vs. #5 Michigan State Spartans (9:00 P.M. ET | ESPN)

If Valentine were playing, this might not be much of a game. But he’s not, which bodes well for Illinois. The Spartans have to be feeling a little more confident coming off a 69-61 win over Minnesota, but they’re still not as efficient without their best player. Look for Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes to continue taking most of Michigan State’s shots, as both of them scored in double digits against the Gophers.

Illinois enters the contest coming off back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State. Just like Michigan, they’re going to have to stabilize they’re opponents big men to win. The Fighting Illini play a small-ball lineup and Michigan State has solid forwards in Matt Costello, Deyonta Davis and Gavin Schilling.