Ann Arbor — Another game, another top-20 test.
After wrecking No. 11 North Carolina and one of the nation’s top offenses to close out November, No. 7 Michigan turns the calendar and its attention to No. 19 Purdue and Carsen Edwards, one of the nation’s premier players, in the Big Ten opener.
“We go from the kettle to the fire,” Michigan coach John Beilein said on Friday. “Each month the schedule has more importance to it and we're starting two Big Ten games immediately. There couldn't be a tougher opponent to play year in and year out over my time here than Purdue.
“They're just going to bring you the same thing every year with everything they have, with a great plan, good mix of inside and outside and their guys just get better in the program every year. … We're in for just as challenging a game as we had with North Carolina.”
The primary reason is Edwards, who was a third-team All-American as a sophomore last season after averaging 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists, and shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from 3-point range.
With four Purdue starters gone from last year’s team, the preseason Big Ten player of the year has flourished in a larger role. Through seven games, Edwards ranks No. 8 in the nation with 25.1 points per game and is tied at No. 8 with 28 made 3-pointers.
But if there’s one player who knows what it might take to slow his roll, it’s junior guard Zavier Simpson.
Edwards was held to 13 points or fewer just 10 times in 37 games last season, with two of those instances coming against Simpson and the Wolverines.
“They've been guarding each other for three years now at times, but in particular the three times last year. I know that (Simpson) is going to see a lot of great point guards this year and he’ll just keep working and do what he can,” Beilein said. “But Carsen is a different one now. Twenty-five points a game, that's special. He gets to the foul line as well, so it's going to be a difficult one. They run great action for him as well.”
Simpson called Saturday’s encounter a “tremendous” opportunity and emphasized how critical it is for everybody to understand what Edwards is capable of and where he is every second he’s on the floor.
“He has a green light. With a person like that those are the hardest people to guard because you never know what type of shot he's going to take,” said Simpson, who added he believes Edwards has improved across the board as an offensive threat.
“It might be a crazy shot from your point of view, but then again it may be a confident shot from their point of view. With that type of guy, you just got to try your best, try to contest every shot and just do what you can the most. At the end of the day, he's going to make some tough shots.”
And it’s not just Simpson who is looking forward to the head-to-head battle between one of the nation’s top scorers and defenders. Sophomore guard Jordan Poole said it’s the type of high-caliber clash that can boost the team and everyone can feed off in their individual matchups.
"It's fun, it's exciting especially being able to see it,” Poole said. “We also take it on a personal level to do the same thing with whoever we're guarding. But being able to have our point guard to play at a level of defense like that is something I love.”
Make no mistake, guarding Edwards is going to require a team effort. Beilein said while Simpson is like a “great shutdown cornerback you can play man-to-man,” Purdue’s offense tends to run more cluster sets than isolation plays, which will require everyone to stay connected for every action.
“They're going to set a lot of screens for Carsen Edwards and he can shoot it from deep, off a screen, on the move,” Beilein said, “so he's going to need help from our other guys to make sure he doesn't get these clean looks while he's working like crazy to get over screens.”
While Purdue doesn’t quite have the perimeter threats and the same post presence it did with former big man Isaac Haas this season, it’s still one of the more efficient offenses in the nation with sharpshooter Ryan Cline (28 made 3-pointers) and mobile center Matt Haarms.
But it all starts and stops with Edwards, just like Michigan’s defense with Simpson.
“He's always locked in each and every game,” junior center Jon Teske said of Simpson. “Defensively, he wants to lock down and guard the best player.
"He's always up for the challenge."
Purdue at Michigan
Tip-off: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 7 Michigan 7-0, No. 19 Purdue 5-2
Outlook: Purdue has lost two of three, with a neutral court loss to then-No. 16 Virginia Tech and at No. 15 Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge…Michigan is 33-20 in Big Ten openers at home. … This is the third straight matchup where both teams were ranked in the top 25.