On Saturday, Purdue traveled to Michigan in what figured to be an important battle at the top of the conference standings. The Wolverines desperately needed a win to help its NCAA Tournament chances and Purdue was looking to help its goal of securing a top seed in the Big Ten Tournament. It was BTPowerhouse's Game of the Night and it certainly lived up to the billing.
From the opening tip, the game was extremely tight. Michigan would get a big bucket inside and Purdue would follow it up with one as well. At the half, Purdue narrowly led 31-27 and in the second half, that battle continued. It seemed like the Boilermakers stayed ahead for the majority of the time, but the Wolverines came clawing back in the final minutes. At the end, Zak Irvin put Michigan over the top to grab a 61-56 home win.
With that, let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan Is Very Likely Going To The NCAA Tournament.
For the entire season, the primary question for the Wolverines has been whether the team would make the NCAA Tournament. Michigan actually had done a pretty good job against the weaker teams it faced and avoided upsets, but the team was extremely inconsistent against the top opponents. At some point, the Wolverines would need to secure at least one more upset to feel good about the team's NCAA chances.
Well, Michigan got that on Saturday. With the win, Michigan improved to 19-7 overall, 9-4 in the Big Ten, and likely just one or two wins away from locking up an at-large bid. Considering that the Wolverines get Northwestern at home and has a few winnable road games, odds are looking good for securing at least another win or two.
2. The Wolverines Toughened Up.
This is going to come off as a really vague and general take, but it needs to be said. Michigan played tougher and showed more fight than it has in weeks. The Wolverines were facing a physical team that's one of the best defensive units in the country and not only matched that intensity, but came out on top.
During the afternoon, Michigan won the rebounding battle 39 to 35 and consistently kept pressure on Purdue's big men in Isaac Haas, AJ Hammons, and Caleb Swanigan. These three players had a field day on the boards and in the paint during the first meeting and for Michigan to at least keep pressure on these three was a huge improvement.
Additionally, coming into this game, the Wolverines ranked No. 4 nationally in percentage of points from three point range. This was a team that was utterly reliant from long range. However, on Saturday, Michigan found a way to come out on top despite shooting just 5-for-20 (25 percent) from three point range. Considering that this came against a ranked team that dominates inside, that's an even more impressive achievement.
3. Purdue Continues To Have Question Marks.
With Saturday's loss, the Boilermakers dropped to 20-6 overall and just 8-5 in Big Ten play. There's no doubt that Purdue is still one of the better teams in the country. However, figuring out exactly where this team fits remains difficult. This is an NCAA Tournament team, but how much can this team actually accomplish?
The good news is that with this road game over, many of Purdue's toughest games are in the books. In fact, three of the team's final five games come at home and with one on the road against Nebraska, it wouldn't be that unthinkable to see Purdue running the table to finish off the regular season.
Still, even with a manageable upcoming slate, it's incredible to see this Purdue team at just sixth in the Big Ten.
4. Boilermakers Need More Consistency In The Backcourt.
Obviously, this has been a bit of a recurring theme this season, but it remains an issue. Purdue needs to get more steady production, particularly on the offensive end in the backcourt. During the afternoon, the only player outside of the frontcourt to score more than five points was Ryan Cline and he played just 20 minutes.
Along with the lack of scoring, it was the rough shots by players like Vince Edwards and turnovers by players like Rapheal Davis that just added up. If the Boilermakers are truly going to reach the team's full potential, the backcourt needs to step up and be more productive.
It was a huge performance for Michigan and puts the Wolverines into a great spot to secure an NCAA at-large bid. Considering how rough last week was for Michigan, it was a huge step in the right direction.