Game 20: Purdue at Michigan Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Purdue(13-7, 3-4 B1G) at No. 10 Michigan (15-4, 7-0 B1G) at images[2]
Where: Crisler Center (Ann Arbor, MI)
When: 9:00 p.m., Thursday, January 30th, 2014
Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 102.9 FM, 93 Sirius, 191 XM
More: Notebook, Video

Michigan returns home tonight to face Matt Painter and the Purdue Boilermakers. It’s back to business for the Wolverines, who enter play with nine straight victories including three consecutive wins over top ten team.

Purdue heads to Ann Arbor on the heels of back-to-back losses, at Northwestern (two overtimes) and at home to Wisconsin, and a bubble resume that’s fading quickly. The Boilermakers have some talented pieces, but haven’t been able to find a consistent rotation. Purdue has the deepest bench in the Big Ten, a fact that Matt Painter views as a problem.

“I’d like our guys to play better, so I’d know who the hell to play,” Painter said on the Big Ten teleconference earlier this week.

Considering the calendar is close to rolling into February, it’s starting to get a little late to figure out who should be playing.

The Boilermakers

Purdue’s offensive approach is put the ball on the floor, attack the basket off the bounce and crash the offensive glass. The Boilermakers are the best offensive rebounding team in the league, grabbing 37% of their Big Ten misses, but rank 7th or worse in all other major offensive statistics.  Purdue shoots a league worst 41% on 2-point attempts and 31% (9th) on 3-point attempts for a 42.3 eFG% (10th). That’s a dangerous recipe against Michigan, who has struggled against dribble penetration at times, but it’s not necessarily the most effective offensive strategy.

Defensively, Purdue is a bit more impressive. The Boilermakers have defended the three-point shot better than anyone in the conference. Big Ten opponents are shooting just 28.8% from 3-point range, but are attempting 39.3% of their field goals against Purdue — a higher rate than any other defense in the conference. Purdue is the second best defensive rebounding team in the Big Ten, but doesn’t force many turnovers. The Boilermakers are also third best shot blocking team in the conference, but only the eighth best 2-point defense — a sign they might be a bit too aggressive in chasing blocks.



Only two Boilermakers average better than 23 minutes per game and they are Purdue’s only double digit scorers: Terone (13.3) and Ronnie (10.6) Johnson (pictured above). The Johnson brothers both thrive in isolation and ball screen scenarios. Terone is one of the best isolation drivers in the Big Ten and he abused the Wolverine defense last season in West Lafayette – finishing with 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting. He’s a powerful guard with great quickness that should be a very difficult matchup for Caris LeVert.

Ronnie mans the point guard spot and is the primary distributor for the Boilermakers, but the other characteristics of his game are quite similar. Both players are average shooters – with a limited number of three point attempts and free throw percentages below 65% – but know how to score. Johnson has improved on his efficiency this year with an improved 3-point shot. He was just 6-of-36 last season and is 12-of-29 this year.

Backup point guard Bryson Scott and backup wing Rapheal Davis fit the mold of the starters they replace – they can attack off the dribble and get to the rim, but aren’t great shooters.

12% of Purdue’s offensive possessions come in the post, per Synergy, and the majority of those possessions go to AJ Hammons. Hammons, listed at 7-foot, 251 pounds, is a massive force in the middle of the floor, but his production doesn’t always match his potential. Hammons is the best shot blocker in the conference, he’s a great rebounder on both ends, and shoots 55% on twos, but he turns the ball over on a quarter of his offensive possessions.

Hammons is backed up by Jay Simpson, a 6-foot-10 freshman with great rebounding numbers and Travis Carroll a low usage senior.

Kendall Stephens is Purdue’s primary jump shooting threat. The 6-foot-6 freshman is shooting 36% on threes, with 84% of his field goal attempts behind the arc. Stephens grades out at 1.22 points per spot-up possession, in the 87th percentile nationally per Synergy.

Basil Smotherman grades out as one of the top defenders not just on Purdue’s roster, but in the Big Ten. It’s rare for a freshman to show such defensive promise, but Smotherman has emerged as something of a defensive stopper early in his career. Offensively, the 6-foot-5 forward generally plays an undersized four position and shoots 65% on twos but has yet to diversify his perimeter game (just 1-of-8 on threes).

Cornell graduate transfer Errick Peck splits time with Smotherman at the four spot. The 6-foot-6 forward is active on both backboards, but uses just 15% of Purdue’s offensive possessions.


  • Box out: Purdue doesn’t have great shooters and relies on its offensive rebounding ability. Michigan’s defensive rebounding hasn’t been bad this season, but will be tested against Purdue’s athletic front line.
  • Stop dribble penetration: Michigan has struggled with quick guards and the combination of Johnson, Johnson, and Scott is a very quick tandem. Derrick Walton and Caris LeVert will likely guard the Johnson’s, but Stauskas’s ability to guard the ‘third guard’ will also be important.
  • Dribble hand offs: Purdue has struggled to defend dribble hand offs this season, ranked in the 18th percentile nationally, and the Wolverines have a great dribble hand off player in Nik Stauskas. Look for Michigan to focus on their dribble hand off game early and often in this one.
  • Force the tempo: Purdue’s transition defense grades out fairly well – 79th percentile nationally, per Synergy – but its transition offense is lacking. The Boilermakers score just .935 points per transition possession, 27th percentile nationally per Synergy. Given Purdue’s tendency to crash the glass, look for Michigan to force the pace a bit when the time is right.

Bottom Line

Ken Pomeroy’s system likes Michigan with a 94% chance of victory, projecting a final score of 81-64. Last night’s upset wins in the conference prove that nothing is guaranteed in the Big Ten, but this is a game the Wolverines should win on their home floor.

  • Don Dula

    Damn, they have to play this game at Breslin too? Just picking up more road experience for March….

  • guestavo

    Great O reb team, defend the 3 well and attack of the bounce with a 7 ft future NBA player in the middle. We need to come out focused.

  • Mattski

    Prevented from giving a conference presentation by the cold weather today; looking to tonight’s game to pull me out of my disappointment!

    • Mattski

      Ugh, I had forgotten about Terone Johnson.

  • Kenny

    smotherman has too good a last name to not be a terrific defender

    • rlcBlue

      It does seem like he was destined to become either a great defensive player or an exuberant Mediterranean chef.

      • Mattski

        I was thinking work in an 19th century law firm in London.

  • gobluemd16

    They aren’t the same team at all, but the next two games feature teams with a really strong threat down low, guards that attack the basket well, and don’t really have many outside shooting threats. I think this game will be great preparation for our game on Sunday at Indiana. I think it’d be a good idea for our defense to pack the paint more and make both teams beat us from the perimeter. Vonleh is really good down low for IU and Yogi Ferrell (plus Stanford Robinson) really attack the hoop, similar to the Johnson’s and AJ Hammons for purdue. Hope we come out focused and with max effort, especially after seeing Wisco and Ohio lose at home last night.

  • hops

    Probably shouldn’t be too worried about this matchup, but I am. Coming off emotional win over MSU, Purdue is a very bad matchup for M’s D with the Johnson brothers slicing and dicing. Should be fine if we can minimize their second chance opportunities.

  • Champswest

    The team focus, from a fan’s viewpoint, changes for the next few games. We got through the rough 3 game stretch perfectly, now we need to focus on lesser teams that we should beat, but only if we come ready to play.
    I just can’t forget last year at PSU.

  • Azad

    I hate to pile on with cliches but given what Northwestern, Penn State, and Nebraska have been pulling off…everyone’s beatable by everyone in the conference so we have to keep the momentum from the amazing win streak going. I think the team will be ready to go but I am a bit wary about this one…

  • Andrew

    So I was, for some reason, watching the Purdue/Northwestern 2OT game, and at some point the color guy mentioned that he told Hammons that he plays like he doesn’t enjoy basketball and that he didn’t think you could be elite without enjoying the game. Which Hammons responded to by saying he thought he could prove that idea wrong, confirming he doesn’t really like basketball. Which explained a lot very quickly.

    • Mattski

      Looking forward to watching him. Stauskas, on the other hand, clearly loves it. Walton really seems to enjoy it, too. I recommend that post-MSU win interview, for anyone who didn’t take it in. First time I really developed a sense what he is like. . .

      • kam

        most players love it… sad someone who’s soo tall and talented doesn’t.. What a waste

  • CZGuy99

    This is a difficult aspect of being an elite coach – motivating your team against an underwhelming opponent, but Coach B seems to have the troops focused. The amount of time between the victory over State and tonight will help, as will the ability to point out the 2 upsets last night.

  • TimgColo

    Here’s to hoping for a “relaxing” enjoyable experience tonight. Take care of business boys. Go Blue!!

  • guestavo

    No Pickem thread today?

    • Ack. Forgot to do Pick to Click again. My mistake. Maybe we’ll have a bonus round or something.