On Saturday afternoon, Purdue travelled to Ann Arbor for one of the Big Ten’s biggest games of the weekend. The Boilermakers were looking to move into position to clinch this year’s Big Ten title and the Wolverines were desperate for another marquee win to boost the team’s NCAA profile.
However, when things tipped off in Crisler, Michigan came roaring out of the gates and Purdue couldn’t find its rhythm. The Wolverines held a 15 point lead at the break and never looked back in the second half. Ultimately, Michigan grabbed a 82-70 win over Purdue.
Let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan Should Avoid The Bubble On Selection Sunday.
Since Michigan dropped its matchup against Ohio State on February 4th, things have been different for the Wolverines. The team has now won five of its last six games, with the only loss coming in overtime on the road against Minnesota. That run has pushed Michigan to 19-10 overall and 9-7 in the Big Ten with two games left.
While I hate to use terms like “lock” and “guarantee” for a team that has been as inconsistent as Michigan, fans should feel pretty good about Michigan’s NCAA chances after Saturday’s win. Barring a complete collapse from Michigan down the stretch and some weird things happening elsewhere, Michigan should now make the field of 68.
Assuming that doomsday scenario doesn’t happen for Michigan, this will be the program’s second straight NCAA appearance and its seventh in nine years. It also could set up Michigan to be one of the NCAA Tournament’s most dangerous sleepers.
2. Moritz Wagner Is Turning Into a Legitimate Star.
Everyone knew Saturday’s matchup between Michigan and Purdue would feature at least one star (Caleb Swanigan), but few could have expected the kind of show that Moritz Wagner would put on for fans. While Swanigan would finish with some decent numbers (18 points and five rebounds), it was Wagner who stole the spotlight.
Wagner ended up finishing with 24 points and three rebounds, but it was the damage that he did early for the Wolverines. He hit four threes in the first half and created some key turnovers that fueled Michigan’s offense early. It was his performance that turned the game in Michigan’s favor and likely earned the Wolverines a win.
There’s still some room for Wagner to grow (his foul trouble, in particular), but if he can continue some of his recent performances in the next few weeks, Michigan is going to be a tough team to beat.
3. Purdue Will Have To Wait To Celebrate.
No reasonable Boilermaker fans thought Saturday’s game would be an easy one for Purdue. However, with Maryland and Wisconsin’s struggles earlier this week, Purdue found itself with a lead in the conference standings and a chance to make Tuesday’s matchup with arch-rival Indiana a Big Ten title clincher.
Unfortunately, that won’t be the case.
While Saturday’s result was certainly a disappointing one for Purdue, it’s important to remember that Purdue is still tied in the conference standings with two winnable games remaining. After all, Purdue’s already beaten both Indiana and Northwestern and will face those two next week.
Moreover, even though Purdue fans were hoping for an outright Big Ten title (still possible), the team is still in great shape for the No. 1 seed in this year’s Big Ten Tournament. So, simply put, it’s not time to panic just yet.
4. Purdue Needs More From Its Backcourt.
This is probably a familiar phrase for Purdue, but the Boilermakers are going to go as far as the team’s backcourt takes it. Purdue has the big men to get the job done and the forwards that can keep things rolling, but it’s the backcourt that will determine whether the Boilermakers can end up reaching this team’s lofty goals.
On Saturday, Purdue’s backcourt had a rough outing.
While PJ Thompson did some nice things on defense, but he, Ryan Cline, and Dakota Mathias only combined for 13 points, with some of those coming in garbage time. Purdue’s frontcourt can overcome a lot, but when Purdue has to face elite opponents in March, it’s going to need more from the backcourt than it got Saturday.
The game may have looked like a close one on paper, but Michigan’s fast start was too much for Purdue to overcome. The win will likely secure Michigan’s spot in the NCAA Tournament and the loss will leave Purdue looking to rebound on Tuesday.
Michigan will move on to face Northwestern on the road on Wednesday. Purdue will try to sweep Indiana at home on Tuesday.