In what was one of the most entertaining games of the season, Michigan came out on the wrong side against #3 Purdue. The Wolverines had one of, if not the best offensive game of the season. They were able to trade baskets with Purdue all night long – there were 24 lead changes in the game. Every time it looked like Purdue was going to pull away, Michigan would come right back with the answer. Over most of the second half, the Wolverines and Boilermakers would trade baskets and leads on almost every trip down the floor. Ultimately, Purdue would pull away and hit their free throws to cling to a 92-88 win. With the loss Michigan falls to 6-4 in the Big Ten and 17-6 on the season.
Despite the loss, there are a lot of positives to take away. First and foremost is the offensive performance that the Wolverines displayed tonight. They shot over 60% from the floor and 56.5% from behind the arc. Michigan made 13 of their three point attempts, with Moe Wagner connecting on three, while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman poured in 6 of his 9 attempts! There were stretches of the second half where Abdur-Rahkman could not be stopped, connecting on deep, deep three pointers and piling up points. The senior would finish with 26 points as he tried to put the team on his back and lead them to victory.
Wagner also had a great offensive game. Despite his being bullied by Isaac Haas on the other end of the floor, Wagner scored 15 points, making back-to-back plays for Michigan as Purdue pushed their lead up to nine to get it back to a manageable four point spread. His biggest problem tonight was turnovers. Wagner committed four of them, looking to do too much or get too fancy with the ball at times. If he had looked for teammates on those few possessions, this could have been a different ball game.
At the beginning of the season, Michigan’s point guard play was an unknown. Who was going to start? Would a player emerge from the group of three in contention? It is clear that Zavier Simpson has taken the job and run with it. Simpson had another outstanding game, scoring 16 points, while adding 3 rebounds and notching 5 assists and 2 steals. He also continues to be a bulldog on the defensive end as well. In the biggest game of his career, in a raucous road environment, Simpson showed he will be a steady hand for Coach Beilein and the Wolverines leading their offense.
Passing the eye test
In order to hear their name called on Selection Sunday, a team must win their conference tournament or earn an at-large bid. In order to do the latter, a team needs to compile a resume that shows they are deserving of postseason play. Wins and losses are significant, but also who it is you beat. And of course the “eye test” comes into play. This means that a team shows the committee that they belong. That they have talent and can play competitive basketball against other top teams.
Although Michigan lost the game tonight, they clearly passed the “eye test.” Many believe Purdue is one of the best teams in the country who has a great chance to win a National Championship. Michigan showed that they can go toe-to-toe with such a team on the road. Barring any major collapse, Michigan is a lock to make the tournament this season.
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