Before the season started I thought Sunday's game would likely help decide the Big Ten title. Back in the early October days, when Robbie Hummel was healthy, this game had the potential to be the second of four possible meetings between two top five teams. As the Grateful Dead would say, "What a long, strange trip it's been."
Robbie Hummel hasn't played a second this season, but Purdue is still in the hunt for the Big Ten title. Michigan State has stayed healthy for the most part (though Kalin Lucas has struggled with his recovery) but Korie Lucious was kicked off the team and they are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives after making consecutive Final Fours with this core group. At the moment of the Hummel injury, some thought Michigan State was a lock for the Big Ten title and Purdue would be a bubble team. The fact that the current situation is exactly the opposite is strange even though we have watched the season play out to this point.
To be honest, this game concerns me. I feel like the Spartans have been replaced by some bizarro team that really isn't Michigan State. That, or they weren't really that good last year and lucked into a Final Four because Northern Iowa knocked off Kansas and Tennessee beat Ohio State for them. I still believe they are an incredibly dangerous team that will find a way to put it together, even though 27 games have proven otherwise.
2009-10 Record: 28-9, 14-4 Big Ten (Big Ten co-champions)
2010-11 Record: 16-11, 8-7 Big Ten
Postseason Result: Lost 52-50 to Butler in National Semifinal
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 64-45
Last Purdue win: 1/22/2011 at Purdue 86-76
Last Michigan State win: 2/28/2010 at Purdue 53-44
Time & TV 1pm ESPN
The big story of our previous game was, of course, GameDay being in town and the atmosphere it created. I will likely have a lot of bittersweet memories from that game because it was a major encouragement to me at a very dark personal time. On the basketball floor Purdue played a solid game though. Here is what The Only Colors had to say after the game:
You know what? That was pretty clearly Michigan State's best offensive performance of the season. Against the 6th most efficient defense in the country, MSU scored 76 points in 65 possessions. The resulting offensive efficiency mark of 116.9 is the second best number anyone's posted against the Boilermakers this year. (And the numbers aren't just a function of scoring buckets late, in auto-foul mode; MSU's offensive efficiency was up over 110 the entire game.)
The problem was, of course, on the other end, where the Purdue scorers simply could not be stopped. Roe defended JaJuan Johnson about as well you can do it and Johnson still went for 20 points on 13 FGA. E`Twaun Moore almost literally could not miss in the first half, finishing with 26 points on 18 FGA. The only big individual Boilermaker performance you can really pin on the MSU defense was Lewis Jackson's (19 points on just 9 FGA).
Purdue's offensive efficiency of 132.3 was the highest posted against MSU since the NCAA Tournament loss to Memphis in 2008. They were that good tonight.
This was just a good college basketball game where Purdue played incredibly well. Ryne Smith played fantastic defense, D.J. Byrd hit some big shots, and LewJack tortured their defense. This was also the last game that MSU played with Lucious, as he was kicked off the team before the next game.
So what can we expect tomorrow? The loss to us was part of a brutal stretch where MSU lost five of six games and bottomed out with a 20 point loss at Iowa. Their only victory in that time was a one point home win over Indiana in overtime. They have played better in that time, separating themselves from Big Ten Bubble teams by beating Penn State, Illinois, and Minnesota while losing to Ohio State. Assuming they can beat Iowa and Michigan after this game, they will probably be safely in the field with 10 conference wins, but even if they lose to us an 18-12 overall record is hardly a statement.
They have played one of the most difficult schedules in the country and it has paid off with a solid RPI of 37, but their only win against the current top 25 was Wisconsin at home on January 11. They have played eight games against the top 20 RPI teams and have gone 1-7. That bodes well since we're currently 8th in the RPI. To be fair, only two of those games were at the Breslin Center and they split those by beating Wisconsin and losing to Texas.
This game really depends on the motivations behind it. A Michigan State win likely seals an NCAA Tournament bid that was in doubt as recently as two weeks ago. A Purdue win makes sure our Boilers are still alive for consecutive Big Ten championships with a week to go. We're not going to lose to a Jekyl and Hyde Illinois team on Senior Night for JJ and E`Twaun, and we'll be favored at Iowa. That makes this the toughest game we have before the tournaments.
Once again, I expect it to come down to our defense. Draymond Green had a 21 point 11 rebounds game the last time, but he has scored just 12 points in MSU's last two wins combined. Kalin Lucas has been playing great basketball of late, but LewJack torched him last time. The Spartan starters played well the first time, but they got only 10 points off the bench. Six of those came from Lucious. We can't afford to let their bench get involved and we have to keep playing the tenacious perimeter defense we have played of late.
We were also aided by 58% shooting from the field last time, something that is far from a guarantee on the road. That helped erase MSU's rebounding advantage, but we also shot 17 more free throws. We can't expect that to happen again, either. Fortunately, I think the desperation factor that Michigan State was feeling a few weeks ago has been erased with their wins over Minnesota and Illinois. They know they are likely 4th in the Big Ten right now. If they win two of three they will still get a first day bye in Indianapolis, so they don't need this one as much as previously thought. That helps, but only a little. We're still in for a battle against a very talented team.
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