Battle of bigs could tip the scales in Michigan-Purdue bout

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Purdue's Trevion Williams is no stranger to Michigan's Hunter Dickinson.

Despite being two grades apart and from different parts of the country, Friday’s matchup between the No. 7 Wolverines and Boilermakers won’t mark the first time the two big men have crossed paths.

“We've played against each other a couple times, whether it was AAU, USA (Basketball),” Williams said Thursday. “I'm very familiar with his game."

Williams, a junior forward and former Detroit Henry Ford Academy standout, said the last time he squared off against Dickinson was two years ago at tryouts for the USA Basketball U19 World Cup Team.

Williams made the squad, which went on to capture the gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Cup, while Dickinson didn’t make the cut.

Purdue's Trevion Williams (50) is averaging a career-high 15.4 points and 9.5 rebounds this season.

“We went at it a little bit and we both had our share,” Williams recalled.

Flash forward to now, Dickinson and Williams have both been a handful for opposing defenses and are driving forces for their respective teams.

Dickinson has dominated one-on-one matchups throughout the season and has had his hot start to conference play cooled off recently by a healthy helping of double-teams.

Over the past two games, Dickinson was held to nine points on five shots in the loss at Minnesota and three points on three shots in the win against Maryland. Despite those low outputs, he still ranks second in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (70.1%) and 12th in scoring (16.3 points) during league play.

Purdue coach Matt Painter called Dickinson an “all-conference performer” who has his team on high alert due to his ability to deal damage in different ways — as a passer from the post and elbow areas and as a scorer who rarely gets put in bad spots around the rim.

“He’d be a good player even if he wasn’t 7-foot,” Painter said. “Most guys that are 7-foot, their No. 1 strength is their ultimate size. He's cerebral and tough-minded.”

Added Purdue freshman center Zach Edey: "He can hit a jumper. He can face up. He's fundamentally sound and being fundamentally sound is always tough to guard.”

Like Dickinson, Williams has caused fits for opposing big men. He’s racked up five double-doubles and scored in double figures in each of the past 11 games. During that span, he’s posted four 20-point performances and has shot 50% or better from the field 10 times.

The Wolverines also had a tough time containing Williams last season. He averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds in the two meetings, highlighted by his monster 36-point, 20-rebound effort in a double-overtime loss in Ann Arbor.

"I just had a good night,” said Williams, who is 0-3 against Michigan in his career. “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 with a ‘W.’”

After an up-and-down start to conference play, the Boilermakers have strung together four consecutive wins — a streak Williams started with a last-second shot at Michigan State on Jan. 8 — and enter the matchup with growing confidence.

“We've been rolling, and we want to keep it going,” Williams said. “We know what type of team they are. They're capable of being beat and we want to do everything we can to get that done. We came close last year, and we didn't get the result that we wanted. We want to capitalize on what we've been building.”

But to do so, it all starts with the men in the middle.

“It's a tough matchup, but it's also a challenge,” Painter said. “You look across our league, there's a lot of really good big guys. When you have good big guys yourself, it's a challenge every night to go out and try to outplay them and outcompete them. That's what this league brings out in your players.”

No. 7 Michigan at Purdue

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

► TV/radio: FS1/950

► Records: Michigan 12-1, 7-1 Big Ten; Purdue 11-5, 6-3

► Outlook: Michigan has won the past four meetings between the teams. …Purdue is led by former Detroit Henry Ford Academy product and junior forward Trevion Williams (15.4 points, 9.5 rebounds) and has won four straight conference games, including last-second wins at Michigan State and Ohio State. …The Boilermakers are 6-0 at home and 3-3 against ranked opponents.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins