Michigan and Purdue will face off at 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday in the Big Ten Tournament final. The Wolverines uprooted Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on Saturday, and are headed to their second straight conference championship game, albeit with no harrowing plane-accident story to capture the nation this time.
Instead, the best thing about this team is its defense. Coach John Beilein has the Wolverines looking like a March Madness threat heading into the tournament final on Sunday, and a smothering defensive effort is why.
Michigan made Michigan State play ugly on Saturday
Beilein’s team entered Saturday with the ninth-best defense in the country, according to the KenPom rankings, and that’s only going to go up the way the Wolverines have been playing lately. It’s the team’s clear strength, as the KenPom algorithm grades Michigan’s offense No. 41 in the country.
All five position players guard well and force opponents into tough shots. Michigan made sure a Michigan State offense that ranks 11th in KenPom’s efficiency couldn’t get consistent open looks on Saturday.
The Wolverines held Michigan State to its worst shooting game (38 percent) of the season. All of the Spartans’ double-digit scorers had to get there by hoisting uncomfortable shots, and only got there by taking a high number of shots. Neither Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston nor Jaren Jackson Jr. shot better than 39 percent.
That’s a recipe for a Michigan win.
Defense gives Michigan room for error when its offense sputters, and that’s why the Wolverines will win
Moe Wagner, Michigan’s best offensive player, didn’t hit a shot from the field in the first half Saturday. Michigan was shooting 31 percent at halftime against Michigan State, but only trailed 29-26 because the Spartans weren’t lighting up the scoreboard, either.
Defense is why Michigan is in such a good spot against Purdue in the title game.
Purdue seems like a good matchup for Michigan’s defense. Those teams played down to the wire in each of their two games this season, and Purdue came out on top both times. Behemoth center Isaac Haas gave Michigan trouble in both games, scoring 17 points in January and 24 in February. But Michigan’s defense is playing better than it was during either game, and Purdue was lights-out on 3-pointers in those two wins.
Here’s betting the latter won’t happen again when those teams play Sunday.