A big-time outcome transpired Saturday afternoon in the Big Ten. Michigan, which had been able to tread water for more than a month without its best player, rallied to defeat 18th-ranked Purdue 61-56.
And that player — Caris LeVert — finally returned to the team against the Boilermakers. Things could be turning even better for U of M.
Here’s what it all means for John Beilein’s team, which is tracking to the NCAAs but still far from a sure thing to make the Big Dance. The Wolverines went on an 11-0 run to seal the victory and improve to 19-7 in the process. The Wolverines are now 9-4 in the league. Saturday’s win marked the biggest come-from-behind victory of the season for this team. For LeVert to return, it clearly gave the team a jolt. More importantly was seeing now Zak Irvin lifted U of M. He had a team-high 22 points.
If Irvin, LeVert and point guard Derrick Walton can create some chemistry, then yeah, this team will be dancing. It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks ahead. Three of the Wolverines’ final five games are away from home, and the two home tilts come against Northwestern (almost surely a win) and Iowa (that one will be tough).
Both teams shot poorly (Purdue 40 percent, Michigan 36), but the strange thing is that usually benefits the Boilers. They’re big and can clog the paint. They didn’t own the boards, though, and had some sloppy fouls. Caleb Swanigan had a good effort; the freshman led his team with 14 points. He’s getting better by the week.
Purdue is now 20-6, and if it weren’t for that OT win against Michigan State earlier this week, the Boilers would be looking at a three-game skid. There’s little doubt Matt Painter’s team will be in the NCAA Tournament, but the seeding here could still be pretty volatile. Anything from a No. 4 to a No. 8 (that would be a worst-case scenario) seems to be in play.