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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, March 04, 2018 4:40 pm

Pregame: No. 8 Purdue (28-5) vs. No. 15 Michigan (27-7)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

For the second straight year, Purdue and Michigan will meet in the Big Ten Tournament. Last year, the Wolverines upset the top-seeded Boilermakers in overtime in the tournament quarterfinals on their way to the title. This year, the teams meet in the title game and both are ranked in the top 15 in the country. 

The Boilermakers will be looking to beat Michigan for the third time this season after two victories over the Wolverines in January by a combined five points. Both teams shots better than 60 percent as Purdue squeaked out a 92-88 victory despite 13 3-pointers from the Wolverines. It was an entertaining game with both offenses executing at an incredibly high level. It's difficult to imagine the teams shooting that well again today, but we can dream.

The key for the Boilermakers offensively in that previous matchup was getting the ball early in to Isaac Haas. Haas scored the first three baskets of the game for Purdue by getting deep post position as Michigan refused to send help. Haas' presence down low ultimately opened up room for both Vincent and Carsen Edwards to get into the lane off the dribble and finish near the rim or kick to other open shooters. Getting Haas established in the first few minutes will be crucial again for the Boilers.

Michigan poses a matchup problem for Purdue, though, because its best big, 6-10 forward Moritz Wagner, is most comfortable playing on the perimeter. When Wagner and Haas are in the game together, the Purdue center often has to guard his counterpart beyond the 3-point line, which is not only difficult for him because Wagner is a crafty ball-handler but also draws Purdue's best interior defender away from the rim and opens up driving lanes, which Michigan's talented guards can exploit. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had 26 points for the Wolverines in the previous matchup between these teams, several baskets coming from close to the basket with Haas out near the 3-point line.

Haas only played 20 minutes in that previous matchup, while backup center Matt Haarms played 19. If Haas struggles again to guard Wagner, expect some more opportunities for Haarms, who is a little more versatile (if still slightly awkward) in guarding on the wing.

A win Sunday would give Purdue its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2009 and just its second since the annual event began in 1998. It would also avenge last season's loss to the Wolverines on this stage and give the selection committee something to think about come next Sunday. 

What I'm watching for: Raining 3's. The Boilermakers were one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country in the middle of the season and then went through a slight dry spell (by their standards) for a few weeks. It seems as though that drought is over. Purdue is shooting 45.4 percent from beyond the arc during its current 5-game winning streak, including 47.1 percent in the two Big Ten Tournament games. If the Boilers hit at that level or better today, Michigan will have to be perfect on offense in order to win.

Prediction: Purdue 79, Michigan 72