Fans might have had their complaints about the Big Ten Tournament being put in Madison Square Garden, but few of those came out on Sunday. That’s because fans got blessed with a fantastic matchup between the Michigan Wolverines and the Purdue Boilermakers in the championship game.
Heading into the game, both Michigan and Purdue were red hot. The Wolverines had won eight straight and Purdue had won five straight. And that showed early on as both teams fought for the lead. However, as the second half continued, Michigan’s defense stifled Purdue’s offense and the Wolverines were able to grab the victory.
BACK TO BACK!!!!!— Michigan Men's Basketball (@umichbball) March 4, 2018
BIG TEN CHAMPIONS 〽️ pic.twitter.com/4RdiAJMO1Z
The win, obviously, means a Big Ten Tournament title for the Wolverines, but what else does it mean for both teams? Let’s take a look.
What We Learned
1. Nobody wants to see this Michigan team right now.
We all know the stories of March. A team that struggled for much of the season gets hot and suddenly finds itself moving deep into the NCAA Tournament. It’s something that goes hand and hand with the Tournament and what fans expect in college basketball.
And while Michigan probably didn’t struggle for much of the season, there’s little denying that the Wolverines are hitting on all cylinders at the right time. I mean, just take a look at what Michigan has done over its last nine games:
Michigan’s Last Nine Games:
- 9-0 overall record
- Big Ten Tournament title
- Nine wins against top 100 KenPom teams
- Seven wins away from home
- Five wins against top 50 KenPom teams
- Four wins against top 30 KenPom teams
- Three wins against AP Top 25 teams
- Two wins against AP Top 10 teams
Those achievements are incredibly impressive. In fact, there will be a good number of teams in the NCAA Tournament who didn’t achieve anything close to that over the duration of the season, let alone in less than a month of game play.
Being hot doesn’t guarantee a team will go deep into March, but nobody wants to be playing Michigan right now. TRank had the Wolverines as the sixth-most efficient team in the country in the last month of the regular season and Michigan’s only looked better in the Big Ten Tournament.
Wolverine fans should be getting ready for some great games in March.
2. Zavier Simpson has been the catalyst on defense.
While many look at Michigan as an offensively focused team (and for good reason), it’s been the defense that’s led the team’s upward trend. The Wolverines have risen all the way to sixth in defensive efficiency on KenPom, which is an immense improvement for past Beilein teams. In fact, last year’s team finished at 69th in the same category.
But the main driver of this defensive improvement has been Zavier Simpson. He has completely stonewalled opposing point guards, killed transition opportunities, and prevented opponents from getting into offensive sets on a routine basis.
While Simpson isn’t solely responsible for Michigan’s defense, just look at some of these numbers from this weekend against the Wolverines:
- Jordan Bohannon: 82 offensive rating, 11 points, 3-for-14 from the field
- Glynn Watson: 85 offensive rating, 10 points, 4-for-12 from the field
- Cassius Winston: 102 offensive rating, 11 points, 3-for-10 from the field
- Carsen Edwards: 77 offensive rating, 12 points, 4-for-16 from the field
Those players found a way to score some points, but those are four of the best players in the league and none of them managed to do much against Michigan and a huge part of that was Simpson. He was a bulldog for the Wolverines over the weekend and will be a defensive ace heading into the NCAA Tournament.
3. Purdue desperately needs Vincent Edwards at full strength
Let’s be clear about something before we dive into this point. Purdue ran into a red hot Michigan team on Sunday afternoon. Few teams are playing as well as the Wolverines right now. In fact, one could reasonably argue that Michigan’s as well as, or better, than anyone in the country. As such, Boilermaker fans need to keep reactions in context.
However, one thing that was abundantly clear on Sunday was that Purdue needs Vincent Edwards to return to full strength.
Purdue has been an outstanding team this season on both sides of the ball, but it’s the team’s diversity on offense that has made it so good. The Boilermakers force teams to guard inside, off the dribble, and on the perimeter. If an opponent tries to double or cheat over, Purdue immediately punishes them.
But without Vincent Edwards at full strength, Purdue’s just not quite as balanced as it needs to be against elite competition. The Boilermakers can still go far in March without him at full strength, but he needs to return to full strength for a shot at the Final Four.
4. This is where the season truly starts for Purdue.
Look, I’m not going to pretend that Purdue fans didn’t want to win the Big Ten regular season title or the Big Ten Tournament this season. Every fan knows they would have loved to achieve those goals over the last month. Each would turn a really good year into a great year for the program.
However, with that said, Purdue’s nemesis over the last few decades has been the NCAA Tournament. Despite having some really, really good teams, Purdue has only made the Sweet 16 three times since 2000 and has never made the Elite Eight. And the Boilermakers haven’t made the Final Four since 1980.
Simply put, it’s been awhile.
And this is poised to be the program’s best chance to change that narrative in recent memory. Purdue is projected to be a two seed in this year’s bracket and is currently ranked among the top five teams on KenPom. Those are both measures that imply Purdue has a great chance to go beyond the second weekend this year.
The team has the experience and playmakers to make a run. Now, it’s time to get the job done. Purdue may have missed out on the Big Ten titles this year, but a much bigger achievement is now lying in front of the program. We will see if the Boilermakers can go out there and grab it.
This game may not have ended up being as close as many thought it would before tipoff, but it was an intense game with some great plays on both sides. Michigan scored its second straight Big Ten Tournament title with the win and will head into the NCAA Tournament with some serious momentum. Meanwhile, Purdue will hope to take out its frustration in the Tournament as well.