Game 16: Michigan at Purdue Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Michigan (12-3, 2-0 B1G) at No. 18 Purdue (13-2, 1-1 B1G) 2000px-Purdue_Boilermakers_Workmark.svg[1]
Where: Mackey Arena (West Lafayette, IN)
When: 7:00 p.m., January 7th, 2016
Radio: 950 AM, 102.9 FM,

Michigan heads on the road tonight in search of its first marquee win of the 2015-16 season. Set to start a stretch of three straight games against Big Ten favorites, the Wolverines will hope to prove that their early season woes against elite teams are a thing of the past against a Purdue team that might present more matchup challenges than any other league foe.

The Boilermakers

Purdue is ranked 54th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 1st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Michigan isn’t just playing against a great defense tonight, it’s facing the best defense in the country. Despite the impressive season-long resume, there are a few ugly markings in conference play.

Purdue sputtered to two poor offensive performances against Wisconsin and Iowa, managing .96 points per possession (second worst in the league through the first week) and allowing Iowa to score 1.06 points per trip and 1.47 points per possession in a dramatic second half collapse.

purdue def-factors

Michigan’s offense against Purdue’s defense is a fascinating strength-on-strength matchup. Michigan is the No. 3 shooting team in the country and Purdue has the No. 1 shooting defense. The rest of both team’s offensive and defensive numbers almost match. This Boilermaker team doesn’t force many turnovers and Michigan rarely gives the ball away. Purdue is also a great defensive rebounding team that avoids fouling while the Wolverines aren’t very active on the defensive glass or at the free throw line.

When Michigan has the ball its going to come down to one of the best shooting teams in the country’s ability to make shots against a defense that makes it almost impossible to make shots.

purdue off

On the other side of the ball, both teams are more average. Michigan’s defense has been steadily improving and has managed great defensive rebounding numbers against average and below-average teams, but it has been pulverized in its three most difficult games against Xavier, UConn and SMU.

Michigan Defense Splits

These stats are obviously a bit skewed by the level of competition, but the numbers are still jarring. Michigan has played two of the top five offensive rebounding teams in the country in losses, but it’ll need to show some improvement on the defensive glass in West Lafayette.

Purdue rebounds 35% of its misses, ranked 47th nationally, and it is much better scoring inside than out. The Boilermakers shoot 53.8% on twos (41st) and 35.2% on threes (131st), but actually attempt 40.6% of their shots from long range (62nd) despite the massive size advantages inside. Two-thirds of Purdue’s made field goals have been assisted this year, ranked 8th nationally, a sign that the Boilers do move the ball even though they have a reputation for playing massive lineups with poor point guard play.

The sore spots for Purdue have been turnovers, giving the ball away on 18.6% of possessions (179th) and 23.2% in Big Ten play (13th), and getting to the free throw line. Despite the size inside, the Boilers have only attempted 26.6 free throws per 100 field goal attempts in Big Ten play (10th).


Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons split the 40 available minutes at the five position and both players are dominant. Both shoot over 57% from two, are ranked in the top-150 in offensive rebounding rate and the top-75 in shot blocking. They combine to draw almost 14 fouls per 40 minutes and connect on over 70% of their free throws. Hammons has even made 3-of-3 three-point attempts this season for good measure.

Caleb Swanigan is the x-factor for Purdue. He has arguably the highest ceiling on the roster, but can be inconsistent. Despite standing 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, Swanigan isn’t shy about firing up jump shots. He’s shooting 31% from three-point range, so that’s a shot that Michigan’s defense can live with. On the other hand, he has a massive size advantage over Zak Irvin and whoever else Michigan puts at the four spot, so there’s a chance that he could overwhelm the Wolverines inside.

Rapheal Davis, last year’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, has been locking down opposing wing guards in the Big Ten for four years now and this year is no exception. Davis grades out in the 99th percentile defensively according to Synergy Sports and opponents are shooting just 16% against him. Davis is capable of taking anyone’s best player out of the equation and giving him a shot blocker like Hammons or Haas on the help-side is almost an unfair advantage. While he plays a limited role offensively, the 32% career three-point shooter has improved his stroke this year, knocking down 42% of his three-point attempts.

Vince Edwards is perhaps the most versatile player on the Purdue roster. The 6-foot-7 sophomore might play the four at many other schools, but starts at the three for the Boilers. He’s a plus passer and finisher or the wing and can also step out and hit the three. He’s shooting 52% on twos and 36% on threes for the season with a team-high assist rate of 23.1%.

Sophomore PJ Thompson and senior transfer Johnny Hill split minutes at the point guard position. Thompson replaced Hill in the starting lineup five games into the season and despite his smaller stature (5-foot-9), he’s the better shooter (35% from three) and turns the ball over less often. Hill, 6-foot-3, is just 0-of-2 from long range and turns the ball over on over a quarter of his offensive possessions.

Purdue surrounds its array of post talent with an interesting collection of shooters off the bench.


Kendall StephensDakota Mathias and Ryan Cline all attempt significantly more threes than twos, but haven’t quite gotten hot this season. Stephens is shooting 33% from long distance and is the threat to remember, especially by volume. Stephens accounts for over a quarter of Purdue’s three-point makes and attempts on the season. Mathias 35% and Cline 38% are also capable shooters and have hit big shots throughout their career.

They key when guarding any of the three is to get your hand out and close out and run them off the line, but the majority of their shots come off of inside-out action out of the post. None of the three are the sort of knockdown shooters that Michigan has in Duncan Robinson, but they are also a strong enough threat that it’s hard to double off of them down low.


  • Turnovers: Michigan has been uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball through two Big Ten games, giving it away on 20.8 percent of its offensive possessions. Purdue is a team that doesn’t force many turnovers, but has had some success turning the Wolverines over in the past. On the other side of the ball, the Boilermakers have also been plagued by giveaways, turning it over on on 23.2% of their Big Ten possessions — second worst in the Big Ten. Rebounding will draw the headlines, but the turnover column could give Michigan a chance to even the game.
  • Defensive Rebounding: Defensive rebounding against Purdue’s massive front line is the most obvious key to the game. The Boilers aren’t as good on the offensive glass as SMU and Xavier, but Michigan can’t afford to give up second chances or to deflate its offense of opportunities to push the tempo off of clean defensive boards.
  • Find Offense: Scoring at Mackey Arena isn’t easy, especially against a defense of this caliber. The easy layups cutting to the basket and defensive breakdowns that Michigan saw against Penn State and Illinois aren’t going to happen in West Lafayette — certainly not to the extent we saw last week. Michigan is going to have a make a lot of tough shots to open up the Purdue defense and find some way to generate some form of offense attacking the basket.

Bottom Line

According to KenPom’s projected winning percentages, this is the most difficult game left on Michigan’s schedule. KenPom projects a 71-62 Boilermaker win and gives the Wolverines just a 19% chance at the road upset.

  • nswan

    “Purdue is ranked 54th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and 1st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.” I think they 54th in something else

    • Offense… whoops.

    • Chillax

      haha just saw this I was so confused. I reread it literally 10 times

      • Fixed now.. sorry about that guys.

        • Chillax

          no worries, but I am worried about this game. I’m worried Donnal is going to lose whatever magic he found

          • Well a lot of people lose whatever magic they have against this defense. Would be too quick to throw in the towel on him if he struggles against this front line, there aren’t that many Purdues out there.

          • Chillax

            Do you think Doyle even gets on the floor?

            These are the teams where I realized Doyle could not effectively be our go to guy as he just seems so overmatched.

          • For sure he’ll see time. It’ll be all hands on deck and sometimes he’s the better answer against more physical bigs.

          • Chillax

            Do you think there is a point where just because of such a large size disparity that Donnal comes in at the 4 and Wagner at the 5. We would definitely give up a little on the 3 point shooting but you’d get another guy of size in there to help battle…#wishingteskewasontheteamnow

          • Kenny

            I am think the same things, maybe even have Wilson and Chatman at 4. My hunch is that Wagner is going to have a big game.

          • rlcBlue

            One of the things Purdue has done is use Swanigan at the high post to feed the low post. If they do that tonight and Zak can’t stop it, then I could see Chatman or Wilson used in desperation. Since defensive rebounding is one of Kam’s relative strengths, he might be the first desperation move of the evening.

          • MAZS

            He’ll play—likely enough to foul out. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is the kind of game in which Doyle’s girth may be beneficial.

            We will likely need every foul our 5s have to give. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wilson get a couple of turns at the 5 for that reason alone.

          • Corperryale

            Would it be too early to throw in the towel if he also struggles mightily against Maryland, Iowa, and MSU? I mean, all those teams have good-to-dominant front courts, and those are the kinds of teams that you need to beat to get marquee wins and have a shot at winning the conference. If he can’t hold his own against Hammons/Haas, fine, but can he step up against Stone, Woodbury, Davis/Costello, Bryant…

          • Michigan’s team isn’t build for Donnal/Doyle/Wagner to beat anyone by themselves. If one of those three are scoring the ball it has a lot more to do with the offense working properly than them individually.

            They all need to battle down low and on the boards and aren’t going to win every battle down there, but if Donnal has 2 points tonight it is probably because Purdue took away the PNR pass from the guards. More a sign that Michigan’s offense needs to improve.

            And if Doyle or Wagner has a big game in one of those games and Donnal struggles, that’s not really an issue either. The idea is to get some sort of production from one of those three night in and night out.

          • Corperryale

            I accept that. As we’ve discussed, we either need to be absolutely elite from the perimeter or at least competent inside, although it wouldn’t hurt to be both. At the end of the day, I guess the question is: can the ensemble of Michigan’s top-tier backcourt and its mediocre front court beat BALANCED teams like Iowa, Maryland, MSU, Indiana? The back court can’t get that much better (it’s not Burke/Stauskas but it is v good), but it couldn’t keep us in the game vs Xavier, UCon,, SMU. At some point the bigs are going to need to grab a few more boards (allowing third- and fourth-chance points are unacceptable even against Shaq) and get a few inside stops regardless of who they are up against. Or we need to recruit bigs differently.

          • Chillax

            I completely agree at some point we can’t just hang our hats on our offensive shooting. It’s rebounding and stopping other big men that’s killing us. That’s why Morgan was so great. Great at taking charges and fighting for rebounds. He didn’t have to post up on guys down low. He just had to hold their big men back. He was great at getting guys into early foul trouble. Those fouls always caught up with the other team in the second half.

  • Corperryale

    Two questions for discussion: (1) will we see more zone today from Michigan? (2) Will we see more transition today from Michigan?

    • MGoTweeter

      ha was just about to mention both of these things. I think for michigan to win, barring an unreal shooting performance, it needs to get some turnovers and easy baskets in transition. The zone defense has not been effective this year, but Purdue is very sloppy with the ball so perhaps the 1-3-1 could provide some turnovers. Whatever the game plan, there is no doubt that michigan needs to try and get all the easy baskets it can.

      • eddieben

        I still get the shakes every time I think of the 1-3-1 we ran against SMU. Seems to me that Purdue wouldn’t have any issue throwing over the top of it in a similar fashion. Perhaps a 2-3 would be more efficient?

        Also…if we are without Caris, we lose a lot of length in either zone.

        • Corperryale

          Agree that the zone hasn’t looked good thus far. I heard that Iowa was able to force turnovers, so maybe a well-executed 1-3-1 trap could lead to some much needed transition buckets. In theory, the 2-3 could help stop PU from pounding it in to Hammons, especially if double-teams are leading to open threes. But yes, execution could be a problem.

          I do want to see some transition offence though.

          • rlcBlue

            As do we all – I expect us to run at every opportunity; every opportunity will begin with a stop on the defensive end. One area where I’m fairly confident Donnal has an advantage over Hammons/Haas is in running the floor.

            As far as the zone goes – yes, the 1-3-1 trap might be especially effective when Purdue is using their undersized point guard. The PU fan reactions I’ve read were incensed at the failure to adjust to Iowa’s 1-2-2 press, but it seems really optimistic to think that after almost a week to prepare they would be equally baffled by our 1-3-1…

      • geoffclarke

        The problem with a zone is 2 things: (1) we’re not very good at it and (2) Purdue is already a good offensive rebounding team…why make it easier for them (i.e., why make it more difficult for our bad rebounders to box out)? But maybe we’ve been practicing it just to throw them off?

  • ZRL

    Regardless of whether or not Caris plays, I think the gameplan should be to run the offense through Zak. That takes Davis out of the equation and puts Swanigan in a lot of pick and roll situations where he’s probably not used to guarding the ball handler on the pick and roll. Where missing Caris would hurt the most this game is on the defensive glass. We need an all hands on deck approach and he’s one of our best rebounders.

    • gobluemd16

      If Caris doesn’t play, I could see Davis guarding Zak.

      • Wouldn’t surprise me at all.

      • nswan

        But to that end, who will Swanigan guard? I think that is the point of the question. We have a real luxury with positions 1-4 having, at least, a decent passing ability and ability to penetrate. I think we should run our offense through whoever is being guarded by swanigan. If he isnt guarding Zak then that leaves probably Duncan and I like those prospects a lot with his ability to get open for some 3s.

        Just as much as Swanigan will be our biggest problem on defense, he will likely be their biggest liability on defense with the offense that we run.

        • The Synergy numbers also confirm Swanigan as the weak leak defensively.

  • Kenny

    I watched Iowa game. i think that we should use the same game plan, pack the interior and ask Purdue to beat us from outside. Purdue made 7 3’s in the first half and led by 19 but sticking with their defensive plan paid off for Iowa eventually.

    One thing I am not sure is if we should deploy 1-3-1 zone as Iowa did, as I am sure that Purdue practiced against 1-3-1 all this week. But I will not be surprised that we give it a try when other things are not working.

  • urbanachiever

    I mentioned this earlier in the week but I think it will be fascinating to watch when UM has the ball, not only because UM’s offense and Purdue’s defense are both highly ranked, but because the personnel are so different. This should provide the type of intrigue that I feel like can usually only be seen in the NBA where teams have gotten much more aggressive in recent years with employing matchup-based strategies rather than just feeding into the post or playing pick-n-roll

    Thanks for the write-up Dylan. Looking forward to tipoff

  • Corperryale

    No cold start tonight! Come out swinging guys!

  • ZtMaizeNBlue

    This game will let us know how much we’ve improved from the early season disasters. The coaches and players had a ton of film to learn from, and we’ll see how much their hard work has payed off.

    I think the key to this game will be ball screen offense, and of course hitting the 3’s we should hit. Nothing silences a crowd like a hot 3-point shooter. Find the hot hand and feed em. I don’t want to see forced, late shot clock 3’s by Caris, D-Walt, or Zak if they aren’t feeling it.

    Not sure why, but I’m optimistic about this game. I think we win on the road (thankfully no students back from break yet), and make a statement to the rest of the Big-10 that this team is legit.

    Michigan wins 68-63, and Dawkins is player of the game with 24 points.

    Go Blue!!

  • Barth Applefeld

    How much has Michigan improved on the interior? If the bigs can get 8-10 points cutting to the basket and 8-10 rebounds while boxing out the Purdue bigs, that’s a big improvement. Michigan may not win–even if LeVert plays–but they could be in the game, which they weren’t agains SMU and Xavier.

    • bobohle

      I like your thinking.

  • bobohle

    Getting either Haas or Hammonds in early foul trouble would help.

  • ChipperFliet

    Wondering what their “Big Fellas” free throw shooting percentages are. Because I say “Hammer them! Make em earn it from the stripe!
    Also just for fun – let’s say the over/under for AJ Hammons is 25pts. What side are you on?