Michigan took care of business at home, beating Purdue 68-53 last night. Trey Burke led the Wolverines, as they pulled away late in the game. Purdue had stuck around, keeping it a close game for a while, before the three pointers stopped falling. Burke had 15 points and 8 assists, while Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III all had double figures in scoring scoring as well. Purdue made 7 three pointers, but none of those came in the second half, where they were held to just 20 points.
After the surprising beat down by Miami over Duke, the no. 1 team in the country has once again fallen. Now, Michigan, no. 2 in the AP Poll, has another chance to grab the top spot in the country. Just two weeks ago, Michigan had the same opportunity. All they had to do was beat Ohio State, to become no. 1, for the first time in over 20 years, but failed.
Just as quickly as the opportunity slipped through their fingers, it now reappears. Michigan travels to Illinois on Sunday, for a showdown with the Illini. A win moves the Wolverines in to the top spot in the country. But, can they do it?
The Illini, once a top 10 team, are now in a free fall. They have lost 3 of 4, and 5 of their last 8 games. The three point happy offense that was so fruitful early in the season has contributed to their downfall, along with heir rebounding troubles. A lot of their offensive troubles have stemmed from the play of Brandon Paul. The star senior has made just 20-68 field goals in their last 5 games. He is needed to be efficient for Illinois’ offense to work well.
The Illini also have not done a great job protecting their home floor. Northwestern blew them out last week, 68-54, a week after Minnesota won 84-67 in Champaign. In the Big Ten, if you can’t protect you home floor, you have no shot at competing for a title. Illinois is finding that out the hard way, as their season outlook has certainly dimmed.
Assembly Hall, once a scary place to play for the visiting team, has not been so this year, or for the last few years. Michigan has a chance to capitalize on this, as Illinois is very vulnerable right now. If Illinois loses their 4th straight game on Sunday, the whole season could be on the brink of disaster. They need this as much as Michigan does, and will certainly try to ignite their home crowd in to helping them pull off the upset.
Michigan comes in with heavy aspirations, while the Illini come in with desperation. It is hard to imagine that Michigan will blow their second shot at becoming no. 1 in the land. Illinois needs this game badly, but at the end of the day, Michigan is just a better team. It should be a great game Sunday, and no matter the outcome, it will have a huge impact on the Big Ten and national landscape.