Michigan travels to Purdue on Thursday for a battle of opposites. The Wolverines epitomize small ball and perimeter-oriented play while the Boilermakers are a traditional power basketball team with a towering front line.
In an era where everyone wants to play small, Purdue has gone all in on playing big. Matt Painter rotates between two massive 7-footers at the five position with a 6-foot-9, 250 pound McDonald’s All-American Caleb Swanigan playing the power forward. Michigan, which starts a 6-foot-9, 240 pound center and a 6-foot-6, 215 pound stretch four man coming off of back surgery certainly doesn’t have the size to match, but it has one of the best shooting teams in the country to counter.
According to data from Synergy Sports, the average Division I basketball team ends roughly 8% of its offensive possession in post-ups and scores .835 points per post-up. Purdue is the exception to that rule.
The Boilermakers lead the nation in post-up scoring with 286 points in 289 post-up possessions, nearly 20 post-ups per game. Roughly a quarter of Purdue’s offensive possessions end in post-ups, more than 5% more than the nation’s No. 2 post-up offense, Gonzaga, and three times as often as the average Division I team.
Purdue’s reliance on the post-up stands out in the Big Ten as well with the Boilers posting the ball up almost twice as often as any other team in the league.
AJ Hammons has been dominant on the low block this season, scoring on 57% of his post-ups and grading out in the 93rd percentile, while Isaac Haas (80th percentile) hasn’t been far behind in his efficiency. Both Hammons and Haas have used over 100 possessions on the low block while Michigan, as a team, has used fewer than 50.
Freshman power forward Caleb Swanigan hasn’t been nearly as effective in post-ups, scoring on 34.5% of his post-ups for the 28th percentile nationally.
This game matches the third-best shooting team in the country against the best effective field goal percentage defense. Michigan shoots 57.5% on twos and 43% on threes, Purdue allows just 37.6% on twos and 28.3% on threes. In a battle of strength-on-strength, something is bound to give.
Purdue has allowed only one team to manage an effective field goal percentage better than 50% this season while Michigan has posted an effective field goal percentage below 50% just twice (at SMU and vs. UConn).
Purdue does a marvelous job of forcing mid-range shot attempts, using its size and length to keep opponents away from the rim and blocking shots when chances do arise. Hammons and Haas are both great shot blockers while Rapheal Davis was the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year last season.
A rebounding test
Michigan fans probably don’t need to be reminded of some of the impressive rebounding front lines that the Wolverines have already faced this season. SMU (2nd) and Xavier (12th) are two of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country and both teams abused Michigan on the offensive glass. The Musketeers rebounded 45% of their misses and the Mustangs grabbed 54% of theirs.
Purdue isn’t quite as dominant on both backboards as SMU or Xavier were, but it isn’t far behind. Here’s a look at the top overall rebounding teams in the country, including offensive and defensive rebounding.
Michigan players and coaches will only be concerned with controlling one number: Purdue’s offensive rebounding rate. The Boilers are ranked 50th nationally in offensive rebounding rate, grabbing 35.2% of their misses.
“They do what we don’t do well, they rebound,” John Beilein remarked on Saturday. “We have challenges and we have to find a way to balance what they do well with what we do well.”
How important is defensive rebounding to the Wolverines? They are undefeated when holding opponents to an offensive rebounding percentage of 31% or lower and 0-3 when they top that mark.
Matchup to watch: Caleb Swanigan vs. Zak Irvin
This is the matchup that could determine the game. Swanigan and Irvin are nothing alike — one is a wing guard masquerading as a power forward, the other is a center attempting to prove he can play the power forward at the next level — but whichever player can exploit their strengths could swing the game.
Irvin’s shooting stroke has been slowly coming back into focus — especially from the left side of the floor — while Swanigan has been struggling a bit of late, scoring just 6 points on 3-of-15 shooting with four turnovers in his first two Big Ten games.
If Swanigan is settling for long twos and threes and having to chase Irvin around the perimeter as the junior guard is knocking in open threes, then Matt Painter will be forced to adjust his game plan. If Irvin is missing threes and Swanigan is pounding Irvin on the block or in the high low, then John Beilein will have to adjust.
Expect both coaches to stick to their guns early, but watch closely to see which player has the early advantage throughout the first half to see whether one coach will be forced to adjust.