Michigan basketball (24-5, 11-5), ranked #7 in the country, will take their act to West Lafayette on Wednesday night for their final road game of the year at Purdue. Tip is set for 7 pm eastern and the game will be aired on the Big Ten Network.
To be clear, Michigan fans one and all will be thrilled that the 2012-13 road slate is coming to a close. The Wolverines are 17-0 at home this year and have only lost at Crisler once in the last two seasons combined (against Purdue). John Beilein’s team is 3-0 on neutral courts with wins over Pitt, Kansas State, and West Virginia – a resume that bodes well for the upcoming Big Ten and NCAA tourneys. The road, however, has been unkind.
The Wolverines are just 4-5 in true away games and are fresh off the disaster at Penn State a week ago, a loss that is quickly becoming a thing of the past after a riveting win over the Spartans on Sunday.
Purdue (14-15, 7-9) hasn’t had a typical Boilermaker season as they are in a bit of a roster rebuilding mode. Despite that, they did go into the Kohl Center and smack the Badgers in the mouth this past weekend with a 13-point win in the most hostile of venues. The ability is there for Matt Painter’s team, they just haven’t been able to display it with regularity.
For Michigan, it’s all about the ‘D’. The offense has held up well all year even with the shocking 0-12 effort from three point range on Sunday. But anytime you have Trey Burke taking most of the dribbles things are going to be just fine when it comes to scoring the basketball. Michigan should get a lift from beyond the arc as it appears Nik Stauskas is ready to go after taking a jarring elbow in the State game that required 12 stitches above his right eye.
The Wolverines had all kinds of trouble stopping other teams in the middle of their Big Ten schedule, particularly when Jordan Morgan was out and/or hobbling with his ankle injury. Three games ago against Illinois saw Michigan finally put forth a dominating defensive performance thanks to an active and healthy Morgan along with rising defender Caris LeVert.
And then Penn State happened. Michigan led by 15 with under 11 minutes to go and then suddenly couldn’t stop the meager Nittany Lions attack, eventually losing the game in embarrassing fashion. Fortunately, the young roster was able to get off the mat and play a strong defensive game against the Spartans. The interior presence of Morgan once again led the charge and then two late steals by Burke (who had five steals in all) sealed the deal.
Michigan can even their road record at 5-5 with a win and put themselves in great shape for a 1st round bye in the Big Ten Tourney. Back on January 24th in Ann Arbor the Wolverines took out Purdue by a final count of 68-53. When a team has aspirations of going deep into March/April, that Thursday bye becomes a coveted a thing.
Much like in professional sports where you just try to make the playoffs and get hot while you’re there, in NCAA hoops the idea is to get a high seed and find your groove when it matters most. Michigan was in rhythm most of the year until the horrors of a regular Big Ten season finally caught up with them. With the Purdue game and the season finale at home v. Indiana on Sunday, Burke and company have a chance to get on that kind of a roll.
One thing I’ve noticed while covering this team all season long is that occasionally they lack the swagger necessary to do truly great things. An easy example is the Fab Five. They did not care one bit what others thought of them. Internally, they knew there were great and went out and played that way, especially on the big stage of the NCAA tourney. Might Burke’s heroics at the end of the MSU game give Michigan some of that same juice?
So far this season Rob is 25-4 predicting the outcome of Michigan games and I am 24-5. We both feel that Michigan has enough in the tank to pull out a tough road win against Purdue.
Rob: Michigan 68-59
Joe: Michigan 72-66
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