Boilermakers tough task for No. 2 Michigan
Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the catalysts for a Michigan offense that ranks among the best in the nation.
They might face a tougher challenge against a Purdue defense that has put the clamps on the opposition lately.
The No. 2 Wolverines look to avoid a fourth defeat in the last five home meetings by ending the Boilermakers' three-game winning streak Thursday night.
Burke (18.0 points per game) and Hardaway (16.4) are among the Big Ten's leaders in scoring, helping power an offense that ranks among the best in the country shooting 51.0 percent.
Michigan (17-1, 4-1) also is among the conference leaders in 3-point percentage (41.0) and points per game (79.3).
Burke shook off a 5-for-15 shooting performance to score 18 points, and Hardaway had 21 in last Thursday's 83-75 victory at then-No. 9 Minnesota.
Hardaway hit 7 of 8 from the field after shooting 34.5 percent over his previous two games, including going 5 for 15 in a 56-53 loss at then-No. 15 Ohio State on Jan. 13.
"He's got a presence on this team, both offensively and defensively," coach John Beilein said of Hardaway. "That is really making our guys go."
Beilein, though, knows the competition will only get tougher in a league loaded with quality teams.
"We're going to have to do something out of the ordinary to be in the Big Ten hunt," Beilein said. "Every team is going to have to do that."
Michigan hasn't had much success against Purdue at the Crisler Center recently, falling 75-61 in the most recent meeting Feb. 25.
The Boilermakers (10-8, 3-2) believe their recent defensive efforts are a sign they've recovered from a frustrating 4-6 start.
They've held opponents to an average of 50.0 points and 29.7 percent shooting during their winning streak, and Purdue forced 17 turnovers while dominating West Virginia 79-52 at home Saturday for its sixth victory in eight tries.
Coach Matt Painter, though, understands going on the road in the Big Ten always presents a tough challenge. Michigan's only loss in its last 28 home games came at the hands of the Boilermakers.
"I think first of all you can't beat yourself any time you go into an opponent's arena where they practice every single day," Painter said. "Your back's against the wall before the game even starts, especially in the Big Ten."
Purdue has a difficult task ahead in slowing Burke and Hardaway, though it has had success in the past. Burke has 18 points while shooting 7 of 22 (31.8 percent) in two career meetings, while Hardaway scored 10 points on 5-of-13 shooting in the most recent matchup.
Freshman Ronnie Johnson draws the assignment of defending Burke.
"He's considered one of the best (point guards) in college ball right now," Johnson said. "He can get his guys open and he can score really whenever he wants to. You just have to be locked in and not let him get many touches."
Michigan, which has averaged only 60.8 points while dropping three of the last four overall meetings with Purdue, may be in for another physical battle like it experienced at Minnesota.
"Got cuts and everything. But it's great. That's Big Ten basketball," Hardaway said. "Just trying to embrace it as much as possible."
Terone Johnson, Purdue's leading scorer averaging 13.3 points, scored 22 in the last matchup with the Wolverines.