Michigan sees tough road ahead, starting at Purdue

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan basketball is enjoying this current six-game winning streak.

But it’ll take a heck of an effort to make it seven, an unbelievable effort to make it eight and an out-of-this-world effort to make it nine.

The next three games are significant tests, starting with a visit to No. 20 Purdue on Thursday night.

Then it’s No. 3 Maryland at home Tuesday, followed by a trip to No. 19 Iowa on Jan. 17.

Three games, three ranked opponents, including two on the road. Good luck.

“This is a good challenge for us,” Duncan Robinson said. “It’s a great test, three really good teams. Right now, we’re just focused on Purdue, which, obviously will be a tough time.

“It’ll tell us a lot about where we are.”

Since falling to 6-3 following a demoralizing loss to SMU, Michigan hasn’t lost since — including a 2-0 start to the Big Ten season, the last game an impressively dominant victory over Penn State, despite the absence of Caris LeVert.

Coach John Beilein, though, dismisses the notion he’s looking at these as “big” games to tell where the program is at.

“At the end of the year, I decide how big games are, how big games were,” Beilein said. “Right now, some of our toughest losses have been our biggest gains.

“It’s not till we get to the very end where I think you can put that stamp on them.

“Purdue is as good as we’re gonna see, so let’s see how we do.”

The two really big teams Michigan has played this year, it got beat up, first by Xavier, then by SMU. Purdue is really big, with Isaac Haas (7-foot-2) and A.J. Hammons (7-foot) splitting minutes, and freshman Caleb Swanigan (6-9) making an impact, too.

They’ll make life tough for Michigan on the inside, but Purdue’s perimeter defense — and the Wolverines love those 3-pointers — is excellent, too. Purdue’s overall defense is tops in the conference.

It’ll be a big test for all Michigan players, but especially the Wolverines frontcourt — which has gotten a boost from the play of Mark Donnal, who had a career-high 26 points and nine rebounds against Illinois, followed up by 16 points and eight rebounds against Penn State.

This will be the ultimate test, though.

“I just think that our key to success is to not be afraid at all,” Derrick Walton Jr. said. “Know what they’re capable of, know what we need to do.

“We’re not going to be frightened at all. More so, really eager.”

LeVert still day-to-day

The status of LeVert (lower left leg) hasn’t changed.

He missed the Penn State game, and remains day-to-day. Beilein said LeVert would try to practice Wednesday, and would try to participate in shoot-around at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana, on Thursday.

If he’s pain-free following that session, he’ll play. If not, he won’t.

“I realize you guys want answers to that,” Beilein said. “I just can’t give you all kinds of information. I try to do what’s best for our team, for Caris, and still give you information.”

Nevertheless, Beilein knows no LeVert could mean a lot more trouble against Purdue than it did against Penn State.

“If we were playing any team in the country, Caris makes a huge difference,” Beilein said. “Whether it’s Purdue, or whether it’s the worst defensive team. If he’s not able to play, then we’ve gotta find other ways.”

Assists picking up

Robinson hasn’t lit up the scoreboard in Big Ten play like he did in nonconference play. He’s been held to below 10 points in each of the first two Big Ten games.

But he’s finding other ways to help, namely in assists. He’s had 14 assists his last three games, after having 14 in his previous seven.

Robinson, against Penn State, even passed up open looks from behind the arc to get the ball inside to the hot hand, Donnal.

He’s one of several examples — Zak Irvin being another — that Michigan is as unselfish as it’s been for the past several seasons.

“Just getting more comfortable the more minutes I’m out there,” Robinson said.

Slam dunks

How much tunnel vision does Beilein have? With Purdue next, he said he didn’t even know till very recently that Maryland and Iowa were coming up on the schedule. No surprise. This is the same guy who until last month, didn’t even notice the beverage cooler in the media center at Criser Center.

... Purdue is coming off a loss to Iowa, which ended Purdue’s 15-game home winning streak.

... This is the third consecutive Michigan-Purdue game to take place in West Lafayette.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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Michigan at Purdue

Tip-off: 7 p.m. Thursday, Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Ind.

TV/radio: ESPNU/WWJ

Records: Michigan 12-3 (2-0 Big Ten), Purdue 13-2 (1-1)

Outlook: Seven-footers A.J. Hammons (13.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and Isaac Haas (11.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg) lead the Boilermakers, while freshman Caleb Swanigan (10.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg) is another big task for the Wolverines. ... Purdue won the last meeting, 64-51, on Jan. 3, 2015, at Mackey Arena.