This has sure been a lot of fun, huh?
After a week of close games, surprising runs, and breakout performances all set against the backdrop of Madison Square Garden it all comes down to two of the conferences hottest teams.
The Wolverines will be looking to go back-to-back after taking last year’s tournament title down in our Nation’s capital, while Purdue will be attempting to capture it’s second conference crown and first since 2009.
Big Ten Game of the Day
-No. 5 Michigan Wolverines vs No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers
- Time/TV: 4:30PM ET - CBS
- KenPom Spread: Purdue (-3.5)
The Nittany Lions were running on fumes after earning two hard fought victories (and, you know, maybe a place in the NCAA Tournament) which the Boilermakers capitalized on by outscoring Penn State 45-39 in the second half.
Carsen Edwards kicked off his 2018-’19 National Player of the Year campaign a little early by shooting 50-percent from the field and 6-for-9 from three on his way to a 27 point outing.
And while putting up nearly 30 is impressive in it’s own right, Edwards did this only one night removed from a 26 point evening in Purdue’s Friday night victory over Rutgers.
Despite the Boilermakers having only played two games, Edwards would be my runaway pick for MVP of the tournament.
For Michigan, its run to the final got off to a dangerously slow start. With Moritz Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman in foul trouble, it took overtime to dispatch of Iowa in its opening game.
But after sneaking out a win, the Wolverines kicked it into high gear by pulling the plug on Nebraska’s tournament hopes before outplaying in-state rival Michigan State for the second time this season.
In the game against the Cornhuskers, both Abdur-Rahkman and Wagner had 20-plus points, with the 6-foot-11 German grabbing 10 rebounds on the way to his seventh double-double of the year. Against Sparty in the semi-final, it was a team effort that did in Tom Izzo and Miles Bridges as five Wolverines scored in double-figures.
Yet for how impressive Michigan has been on offense, its the teams defensive prowess thats carried the Wolverines to the championship. John Beilein’s team held Nebraska and Michigan State to a combined 34-percent shooting from the field including an abysmal 26-percent from beyond the arc.
But all of that’s in the past. What about when these two Big Ten behemoths take the court one last time in midtown Manhattan?
Will if you’ll allow me one last trip down memory lane, history dictates we’re in for a doozy.
Michigan and Purdue played in two of the conferences best games this year, with the Boilermakers winning both by a combined five points.
Purdue would be wise to not rest too easily on past laurels though, as while the Boilermakers have had the Wolverines number to this point, Michigan is playing by far its best basketball of the 2017-’18 campaign.
Sunday’s title tilt also looks to be a strength verse strength clash, with Purdue putting its top 5 offense on the floor against the Wolverines top 10 defense.
As individual matchups go, I cannot wait to see Mortiz Wagner go toe-to-toe with Isaac Haas. Purdue’s senior big man has had a remarkable career in West Lafayette but Wagner, assuming he returns to school, looks like the heir apparent to Haas’ title as the Big Ten’s best interior presence.
What’s even scarier for Wagner and his ever-developing game is his ability to shoot three’s and stretch the floor. He’s an absolutely nightmare of a defensive assignment, and Purdue’s elder statesman will have his hands full trying to keep up with the swift-footed European.
So how does this one play out? Well typically I’d give an edge to the team that’s traveled the less weary road. And having played one less game while only needing to navigate Rutgers and Penn State, that edge falls squarely to the Boilermakers.
On top of that, did I mention how good Carsen Edwards has been? I did. Well I’m mentioning it again. He’s been THAT good.
All of that said, there’s just something about the way this Michigan team is playing that makes me think that won’t matter on Sunday.
Betting against the Boilermakers is a scary, nightmare inducing endeavor. But I’m going to do it anyway.
The Wolverines make it two titles in a row.
- Pick Against The Spread: Michigan
Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 25-17-1