The proverbial trap was set, and just waiting for the Michigan Wolverines to walk into it. And for a while, it looked like #16 Michigan had done just that when they visited the unranked Purdue Boilermakers.
Coming off a heady home win against their cross-state and arch-rival Michigan State Spartans, the Wolverines had swept the regular season series between the two teams for the first time since 1997, when a guy named Clinton was just settling in for his second term in the oval office. Quite a while ago indeed.
Many times, after a huge home win against an arch rival, a team going on the road for the next game will have a let down. Complacency is likely a factor, and certainly there's been no shortage of smugness, perhaps even arrogance, in Ann Arbor when one of their teams experiences a little success. In short, Michigan was ripe to get beat. It was a trap game.
Playing on the road in the Big 10 is usually no cake walk, even if the visitors are ranked and the homies are not. At that, Purdue appeared to have Michigan's number. Early in the game, the Boilermakers led by as much as 19 points. Why?
Two reasons. Purdue had decided that Michigan guard Nik Stauskus was not going to beat them. Stauskus is one of those guys that, if left open, is a deadly shooter. Purdue's defense was keying on him and hounded him throughout the game. Secondly, Purdue was crashing the boards and winning the rebounding battle in a big way. Time after time, they got second chances on the offensive end and converted them into points. Michigan appeared helpless to stop them. Or perhaps they were bailing out and anticipating some easy fast break points going the other way, but that can't happen if your team doesn't get possession of the ball with a rebound first.
To their credit, Michigan found a way to claw back during the second half, but never had the lead in the game until shortly before regulation time expired. This, despite missing a few free throws, while Purdue was deadly from the charity stripe. Finally, perhaps fittingly, the game ended in a tie. Overtime awaited.
Thing is, Purdue had gotten into foul trouble along the way. A couple of their best players eventually fouled out. During the overtime period, maybe Purdue just finally ran out of gas, either physically or mentally, but the suffocating defense they had shown Michigan up until then was no longer there. Minus their above-mentioned key big guys, Purdue's weak-side defense (the other side the court from where the basketball actually is at any given time) was sorely lacking. This resulted in Michigan getting a few easy dunks from quick passes from one side of the perimeter to the other side of the basket, in close to the rim. Needless to say, dunks are very high percentage shots.
Michigan would go on to squeak out a narrow win in overtime.
How Michigan will fare during their own conference tournament, let alone the madness of the NCAA tourney in a few weeks, is anybody's guess. But don't think this game went unnoticed by a lot of other teams, in the Big 10 and, elsewhere around the country.
If a school has the personnel to suffocate Stauskus and also crash the boards against Michigan -- while staying out of foul trouble -- let's just say Michigan appears quite vulnerable.
Yes, that would take a very good team indeed. But there's several of them out there.
And that just might be a trap even a ferocious Wolverine can't wriggle out of.......