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2016 Big Ten Tournament Preview: #4 Purdue Boilermakers vs. #8 Michigan Wolverines

Michigan's NCAA tournament status is still in doubt and a strong performance versus Purdue could seal the deal, but the Boilermakers are looking more and more like a well-oiled basketball machine.

Michigan will need a second straight upset of a top-4 seed to break out of NCAA Tournament bubble purgatory.
Michigan will need a second straight upset of a top-4 seed to break out of NCAA Tournament bubble purgatory.
Duane Burleson/Getty Images

We've reached the point of the Big Ten Tournament where it's time to turn to your favorite bracketologist and ask them if the Michigan Wolverines have done enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Thanks to a clutch last-second corner three from Kameron Chatman, Michigan extended Indiana's history of BTT struggles and added a good win to their resume with the 72-69 defeat of the Hoosiers. With two days worth of college basketball remaining, the Wolverines are still stuck in that bubble purgatory where something like today's absurd four overtime Connecticut victory could end up being the difference between NCAA and NIT.

Michigan could put tournament uncertainty to bed with another Indianapolis upset, but Purdue will not make it easy. The Boilermakers have been clicking offensively, scoring an average of 86 points in their last four games. These two teams faced twice in the Big Ten regular season and split their season series, each winning their respective home game against the other. Let's take a look at some of the big storylines to watch for in the first Big Ten semifinal of the day.

Purdue looks to reassert rebounding dominance

At this point in the year, you've tried extremely hard to not pay attention to Big Ten basketball if you're not aware that the Boilermakers have one of the tallest frontcourts in the nation. 7-0 center A.J. Hammons, 6-9 forward Caleb Swanigan, and 7-2 backup center Isaac Haas make out-rebounding the Boilermakers a difficult task, but Michigan was able to win the battle on the boards 39-35 in their 61-56 win over Purdue in Ann Arbor.

That February matchup was the first time all year that the Boilermakers lost the rebounding battle, a statistic that multiple Purdue players mentioned in media interviews. Boilers coach Matt Painter will likely emphasize the need to match Michigan's hustle and effort to ensure they have a performance on the glass typical of a team with a top-5 rebounding margin nationally.

Michigan's Zak Irvin hopes to cook up more hometown magic

Mr. Indiana Basketball 2013 is back holding court in his home state. The junior swingman hails from the Indianapolis suburb of Fishers and piled up a total of 36 points and 13 rebounds in the first two Michigan games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Irvin scored 22 points in Michigan's win over Purdue, but Purdue held him to 7 points on 2-for-10 shooting in their January 7th win over the Wolverines in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers may opt to focus extra defensive attention on Irvin in an attempt to prevent him from getting into the zone in front of his hometown friends and family.

Does Michigan have enough left in the tank?

The Wolverines have already played two tight games in this tournament. Their win over Northwestern went to overtime and the Indiana game was a close battle throughout. On the other hand, Purdue did not play until Friday thanks to a double-bye. Once they finally did take the floor, the Boilermakers rolled to an easy victory over Illinois and were able to rest their starters in the second half.

Regardless of the differing levels of rest between the two teams, Michigan will have to bring an inspired defensive performance to the table against the firing-on-all-cylinders Purdue offense. Playing three difficult games in three days is certainly doable for college basketball players but Michigan's energy level late in the game may come into play if this one also comes down to the wire.