Purdue looks to boost Big Ten title hopes against Michigan

Purdue big men Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan are expected to present Michigan with their biggest challenge of the season.
Michael Conroy/AP

It will be like a shampoo bottle in that it will be rinse and repeat from just over a week ago for the Michigan basketball team on Saturday.

Last Thursday, Michigan geared up for an anticipated home game against a ranked opponent, Wisconsin, which offered the Wolverines a chance to give a huge boost to their NCAA tournament resume while at the same time hurting a contender’s chance to win the Big Ten title.

The Wolverines turned in an inspired effort and posted a 64-58 upset of the Badgers.

Fast forward to Saturday, and Michigan will once again gear up for a home game against a ranked opponent, with the chance to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume via another signature win and put a dagger in a contender’s conference title hopes.

Instead of Wisconsin, this time the opposition will be No. 14 Purdue, which will pay a visit to Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Michigan set up its chance against another ranked opponent with a 68-64 win at Rutgers on Wednesday.

“We just had enough grit,” Michigan coach John Beilein told the Detroit Free Press after the Rutgers win. “There was nothing pretty about that one at all, but sometimes those games that could be ugly are beautiful wins to fight through all that.”

This will the only regular-season meeting of the season between the Boilermakers and Wolverines (18-10, 8-7), who both will be desperate in their own ways.

Purdue (23-5, 12-3) is in prime position for its first Big Ten title since 2010, having gone up a full game over Wisconsin after Ohio State’s 83-73 upset of Wisconsin on Thursday in Columbus.

A win over Michigan in Ann Arbor would put Purdue in a position where it could clinch at least a share of the conference title with a win at home on Tuesday against archrival Indiana.

The Boilermakers, who finish the season on March 5 at Northwestern, won their sixth straight game on Tuesday with a 74-70 overtime victory at Penn State.

“It rarely happens when a team outplays another one, plays harder, and they lose the game, especially on their home court,” Purdue coach Matt Painter told the Lafayette Journal & Courier after the Penn State game. “I think the only category we won (Tuesday) is the only one that’s important and that’s the final score.”

Michigan as of Thursday had an RPI of 50, and while several projections have the Wolverines already in the NCAA Tournament, beating another team with a high RPI like Purdue (No. 17) would only strengthen their profile.

The Wolverines already have wins this season against Southern Methodist and Wisconsin, teams ranked in the top 30 in RPI.

It will be the final home game of the season for Michigan, which will finish the regular season with road games at Northwestern and Nebraska.

A big key to the game will be whether Michigan can handle the size problem that Purdue presents for opponents in the form of 6-foot-9 sophomore national Player of the Year candidate Caleb Swanigan and 7-2 junior center Isaac Haas.

Michigan has two versatile post players who have improved greatly this year in 6-10 junior D.J. Wilson and 6-11 sophomore Moritz Wagner, but facing Swanigan and Haas will likely be their biggest challenge of the year.