The top team in the Big Ten visits West Lafayette tonight.
While Iowa also has a case as the conference's best team to date, the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines lead the Hawkeyes by a half-game in the conference standings and they will try to maintain that advantage when they invade Mackey Arena, home of one of the country's hottest teams.
Purdue has won four in a row, including an upset win on the road over No. 15 Ohio State on Tuesday. The Boilermakers are trying to extend their streak to five for the first time in nearly two years.
“It's huge for us,” center Trevion Williams said of taking on another ranked opponent after beating the Buckeyes. “Obviously we've won a couple games, we've been rolling and we want to keep it going. We know what type of team (Michigan is), they're capable of being beaten. ... We want to capitalize on what we've been building these last couple of games.”
“Guys are coming along,” he added. “We've been giving it time and putting in work and it's showing in games. I believe our group is very confident. The cat's out of the bag: Everyone can play and we know that.”
Michigan was a good team last season, but it has taken a leap in the second year under coach Juwan Howard, who played against Boilers coach Matt Painter when the two were in uniform for the teams they now coach.
The Wolverines won their first 11 games of the season, setting a program record, and capped off the streak by routing No. 9 Wisconsin 77-54, a game in which Michigan led by as many as 40 points. They followed that with a loss to No. 23 Minnesota, but bounced back with a 24-point shellacking of Maryland.
“You look at the numbers and you're like, 'Yep, (Michigan is) the best offensive team in our league,' and then you look at the numbers and you're like, 'Yep, they're the best defensive team in the league,' ” Painter said, laughing. “They have a really good mix of experience, skill, guys that are competitive, size. ... They run a lot of good stuff, man, a lot of good stuff. You just have to be prepared.”
Michigan presents a matchup problem for Purdue because the Boilermakers like to get the ball inside and the Wolverines have made a living off of denying teams access to the paint this season. They rank No. 4 in the country in 2-point field goal defense at 40.8% and held Wisconsin to 29.7% from inside the arc while blocking nine Badgers shots.
Williams has been one of the conference's best players in recent weeks, shooting 59.4% from the field in his last 11 games and averaging 17.8 points during that stretch. He's done so despite struggling with foul trouble in Purdue's last few games.
The Boilers have lost four in a row to the Wolverines since January 2018, though that streak is no fault of Williams', who had a career game against the Maize and Blue when the Boilermakers traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, last season. The Purdue big man, who went to high school 40 minutes away in Dearborn, went for 36 points and 20 rebounds in a double-overtime loss to the Wolverines.
“I just had a good night,” Williams said, looking back on that performance. “But I'm the type of guy, I don't want to make it about me. None of that means anything if we don't get the win. This time, I just want to focus on finishing the job.”
This year's Wolverines team will present a different challenge for Williams and fellow center Zach Edey because of the presence of 7-foot-1 phenom Hunter Dickinson. The highly-touted recruit has been one of the best freshmen in the country and leads Michigan in scoring (15.7 points per contest), rebounding (7.5) and blocks (1.5), while shooting a blistering 70.3%, the best mark in the Big Ten and third-best in the country.
Though he's only a freshman, Dickinson is already the complete package, capable of scoring around the rim and finding open teammates when opponents pay him too much attention.
“He'd be a good player if he wasn't 7-foot,” Painter said of Dickinson. “Most guys that are 7-foot, that's their No. 1 strength, their ultimate size, but he's just really cerebral, a tough-minded kid. ... When you have good big guys yourself, it's a challenge to go out and out-play them and out-compete them and that's what this league brings out in your players.”
Purdue vs. Michigan
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette
Records: Purdue (11-5, 6-3 Big Ten), No. 7 Michigan (12-1, 7-1)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM