Freshman discusses how he and other first-year players have been able to make a contribution. Angelique S. Chengelis
Ann Arbor — Purdue hasn’t beaten Michigan in Ann Arbor since 2012, but the Boilermakers arrive for Tuesday night’s game on an 11-game winning streak and recently surged to No. 5 in the Associated Press rankings.
The Boilermakers moved up eight spots for its highest ranking since February 2010, ahead of the game against the Wolverines, who have won nine straight and are 9-0 at the Crisler Center this season.
It is a pivotal matchup for both teams in Big Ten play. Purdue is 15-2, 4-0 Big Ten, while Michigan is 14-3, 3-1. Michigan then faces Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing.
“I really think Michigan State and our next opponent, Purdue, are two top-five teams in the country,” Michigan coach John Beilein said Monday. “They can beat anybody in the country at any time on any court. We’re playing them back-to-back, one on shorter rest than the other one. It’s really a challenge for us in that we have a completely different style again.”
The Boilermakers are a different matchup for the Wolverines without 6-foot-8, 247-pound Caleb Swanigan, the Big Ten Player of the Year as a sophomore last season and now in the professional ranks. In Michigan’s win at home last season against Purdue, Swanigan was 8-of-11 from the field and finished with 18 points, and in the Big Ten tournament, he was held to 5-of-13 from the field for 13 points.
Wolverines coach compliments No. 5 Boilermakers, whom his team plays on Tuesday night at Crisler Center. Angelique S. Chengelis
“Caleb was a great player. He’s a really good player,” Beilein said. “He gave us so many problems. At the same time, the way we play with four guys and go, that presented matchup problems for them at times.
“I don’t want to say that’s why we won, but it’s different now that they have our type of four man whether it was when Zak (Irvin) was play the four, or D.J. (Wilson) was playing the four, or Glenn Robinson was playing the four. Vince Edwards (a 6-8 senior forward who averages 14.1 points per game) is a four who can play. He can guard another tough four, and he can guard on the perimeter, as well, if you have more of a skilled four. That’s a big challenge when he’s their four man, and it will be (Tuesday).”
Eli Brooks, Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole, all Michigan freshmen, have been a boost for the Wolverines and more recently have taken their physical play up a notch.
“Isaiah, Jordan and Eli came in with typical freshman type of mentality — ‘I’ve got to dive on that loose ball?’ Or ‘I’ve got to take the charge.’ They have picked that up. You watch Zavier (Simpson), he’s tough as tough as nails, (and) he wouldn’t last year. He would not stand there and take a charge and now he would do that.”
Theories abound on whether toughness can be coached. Beilein seems to fall somewhere in the middle.
“Some people won’t recruit a kid unless he already shows that toughness,” Beilein said. “I think it’s something you can teach to a degree, and some guys will never get it, I realize that. For the most part, their evolution will get them to the point they understand, if they want to win, they’ll change a little bit from the comfort areas they once played in.”
Beilein was taking a look at Purdue’s stats and was taken aback when one area jumped out at him.
“I thought I was looking at their stats and it said like 42-percent defensive field goal percentage, and I said, ‘Ah, they’re not that good this year,’” Beilein said, leading into the punch line. “And then I realized I was looking at our stats. I said, ‘This can’t be right. This can’t be right.’ And it’s true. They’re at like 37 percent. You can’t get an easy shot. It’s really a difficult one. Much respect for that program.”