Friday, February 24, 2012

Finishing At Home: Michigan vs. Purdue Preview

Fans have one last opportunity to see this year's basketball team in action at home this season in a match-up against Purdue.  With Michigan's current four game winning streak, a victory over Ohio State for the first time in seven tries, and an undefeated home record, this is sure to be an exciting game for Michigan fans.  It's certainly not the biggest or toughest game in Michigan's remaining three regular season games, but a win is crucial if Michigan wants to walk away as the Big Ten regular season champion.  As I posted earlier this week, Michigan's in great position for at least a 2nd place finish, so every game left on the schedule is "must win".

Now, Purdue is not exactly the scariest team in the Big Ten.  They are 18-10 overall and 8-7 in conference play, but they are 0-6 when they have faced teams with winning Big Ten records.  They are essentially the best of "the rest" in the Big Ten.  They can certainly beat many teams and have a solid record, but they certainly aren't in the top-tier of the Big Ten.  However, Hummel is a great player who can create a lot of opportunities for his team and when he's playing well you can't count Purdue out.

Hummel's play, along with Purdue's current tournament situation is why I think this game will be a lot closer than many anticipate.  Even though Michigan has won its last four games and has been playing pretty well, it's crunch time for Purdue.  They will probably make the NCAA Tournament even if they don't beat Michigan, but a win over the Wolverines would go a long way towards securing a spot for them in the tourney.

With this in mind, this should be a pretty competitive game.  Is Purdue a better team than Michigan?  Not really.  In fact, as I pointed out above, they have done little to nothing against the good Big Ten teams this season and I expect that to continue when they play Michigan on Saturday.  The big thing for Michigan is reducing the impact of Hummel and his ever shrinking supporting cast (Purdue kicked several players off its team for a recent bar fight).

If Michigan can minimize Hummel and Lewis Jackson, they will have a great chance at giving Stu Douglass and Zack Novak a great win for their Senior Day.  I would normally say this is a trap game, but I think the emotions tied to Senior Day will inspire the Wolverines to respond to any threat from Purdue.  Douglass and Novak have carried this team for almost four years and I really don't see that stopping for the last home game of their careers.

Plus, this game is the most blatant definition of "must win" that the Wolverines have faced this season.  Michigan is currently only 1 game behind Michigan State in the race for the Big Ten Championship and throwing away a home game against Purdue would remove almost any chance of walking away with the title.  Michigan desperately needs to win its remaining games not only to put pressure on Michigan State, but also to help secure better seeding for the NCAA Tournament.  Right now, there's a lot of speculation that Michigan will enter as either a 3 or a 4 seed come March, so any win is crucial to help Michigan in the seeding.

I really believe that Michigan will come out playing hot and take a size-able lead over the Boilermakers to start the game.  However, Purdue will start to gain focus and close the gap, but I think Trey Burke is going to be too much for Purdue to handle.  Purdue did a nice job of handling him last time, but I think he's going to shred their defense for much of the night to vault Michigan to an undefeated home season.

My Magic Pick Is...

Michigan 69-63

Photo Credit: AP

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