On Friday afternoon, Michigan and Purdue tipped off for the first game of the day on Friday for the 2017 Big Ten Tournament. While the Boilermakers were favored, the game was expected to be a close one, with KenPom projecting a narrow 72-70 victory for Purdue.
During the first half, Purdue went to work, thanks to some great plays from Carsen Edwards, Vincent Edwards, and Isaac Haas. At one point, the Boilermakers held a nine-point lead over the Wolverines. However, Michigan used DJ Wilson to close things up and then took a narrow 38-37 lead into halftime.
The second half was an absolute battle between the two teams. Both sides had serious foul trouble. Michigan struggled to contain Purdue’s big men and Purdue struggled to contain Michigan’s athletic wings. Some late plays from Zak Irvin and Carsen Edwards tied the game at 66-66 and pushed it into overtime as time expired.
Things remained close in overtime, but, ultimately, Michigan proved to be too much as the Wolverines used some key plays from Irvin and Walton to grab a 74-70 win.
Let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan Can Win The Big Ten Tournament.
I have to admit, my first point this afternoon isn’t exactly original. I wrote a piece on what we learned from Michigan’s win over Illinois on Thursday and I had this exact same point in my analysis.
But, seriously, why should I change it?
Michigan’s win over Purdue not only eliminated the league’s highest seeded team from the Big Ten Tournament, but it puts the Wolverines just two games away from hoisting a trophy. And considering that Michigan will be favored (per KenPom) on Saturday and/or Sunday, Wolverine fans have to feel good about the team’s chances.
2. Michigan Is A Matchup Problem.
Given Purdue’s size, most consider the Boilermakers to be the Big Ten’s most difficult matchup. However, given Michigan’s unique combination of athleticism, size, and perimeter shooting, Michigan poses plenty of its own matchup problems for opponents.
These issues were on display on Friday afternoon. In particular, DJ Wilson was able to get some key opportunities simply because Purdue didn’t have players with the physical capabilities of guarding athletic forwards like him. This was also evident in the first matchup between the two teams, when Moritz Wagner scored 24 points.
Wilson didn’t only match Wagner’s performance on Friday, but he exceeded it with 26 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks on the afternoon. Wilson also stepped up in key moments as well. Specifically, when Michigan was reeling in the first half and needed a player to get a few buckets to prevent a Purdue runaway.
It’s unlikely Wilson can replicate this performance on Saturday and/or Sunday, but he is a perfect example of what makes Michigan such a hard team to guard this season.
3. Purdue Stepped Into A Trap.
If you’re a frequent reader of BTPowerhouse, you saw this “upset” coming since the bracket came out last Sunday. I wrote about how Michigan was underseeded in the Big Ten Tournament earlier this week and have continued to discuss how challenging things were going to be for the Boilermakers on Friday.
Well, I told you so.
Purdue was the favorite and should have won this game, but this wasn’t an ordinary eight seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The Boilermakers got arguably the toughest draw of any one seed in Big Ten Tournament history. It was a trap from the start.
Here’s what I mean by that.
To put things in perspective, just consider that Michigan currently sits at No. 23 on KenPom. I realize KenPom isn’t perfect, but it’s still a pretty good indicator of a team’s overall strength, especially since we’re in March and not November.
And where does that No. 23 ranking put Michigan in the Big Ten’s KenPom rankings?
Yes, Michigan currently sits at second in the Big Ten in KenPom ratings. That’s above Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In other words, Purdue got arguably the second best team in the league in its first game.
That’s just a bad luck.
4. Purdue’s Goals Still Await.
No fan every wants to see their team lose. And they shouldn’t. Sports are about cheering for your favorite team and hoping they win every game.
But that doesn’t mean every game is equal either.
Look, the Big Ten Tournament matters. It matters for seeding, it matters for pride, and it matters to all the fans that travel to watch the teams. But for a team in Purdue’s position, it’s just not that important. The Boilermakers were already in the NCAA Tournament and had already won the real Big Ten championship.
Winning the Big Ten Tournament would have been nice, but it doesn’t change all that much for Purdue’s long-term goals. The team’s goals should have been to win the Big Ten and make a run in March. The first has already been achieved and the second is still on the table heading into next weekend.
Think of this like shopping for groceries. Purdue has already picked up the milk and is heading to pick up the bread. The only thing that changed was that the store was out of cheese. Even if things aren’t as nice, the essentials are still there for the taking.
Thursday’s win was a huge one for the Wolverines. The team will now likely move to a seven seed on most of the brackets and face two very winnable games on Saturday and/or Sunday. A potential Big Ten Tournament title hangs in the balance.
For Purdue, this is a disappointing way to exit Washington, D.C. However, with an NCAA Tournament bid already secured, fans should still have hope. Boilermaker fans will now have to wait for Selection Sunday to see where the team lands.