On Saturday, the Year of the Dragon draws to a close. 新年快乐! In other equally important news, Purdue gets a shot at payback for the blowout loss they suffered in East Lansing last month. In addition to their eccentric chest-thumping techniques and hidden cameras, here are some highlights of the statistical profile the Spartans will be bringing into Mackey:
1 They haven't been quite as awesome as their record suggests.
Although they remain tied for first in the Big Ten, Michigan State has not exactly been dominant. With the exception of their blowout victory against us (yay!), all of their wins have been by fewer than 12 points. Compare this to Michigan, five of whose victories have been by more than 12.
Or look at the Spartans' conference efficiency margin. Good, but not great. More Naomi Watts than Scarlett Johanssen. (I'm talking hotness, not necessarily acting chops.)
This is not to disparage the Spartans. I'd be quite happy to wake up with either their record or their efficiency margin (or Naomi Watts for that matter). But the tempo-free perspective reminds us that Izzo's team is not quite the juggernaut that their conference record would suggest.
What to watch for: Do the Spartans come out looking like their record or their efficiency margin? The preview at The Only Colors included this interesting tidbit: During its last two games, MSU has shot 33% during the first half and 76% in the second. Their last two games have also been at home. If Purdue can hound them into another poor first half, perhaps momentum and the road environment can finally get them to wilt under pressure.
2 They're good at limiting opponents' scoring opportunities.
The Spartans are 3rd in the Big Ten at forcing turnovers. They do so on 19.1% of opponents' possessions. And when their opponents do get shots off, the Spartans collect most of the rebounds--71.3%, good for 2nd in the Big Ten. Now it just so happens that limiting turnovers and getting offensive rebounds are two of the (very small list of) things that Purdue doesn't suck at, so this will be an area where Boilermaker and Spartan strengths are in conflict. Dominating either category would be a big advantage for either team.
What to watch for: As far as rebounding goes, how big is our lineup? All of our bigs grab offensive boards at a decent rate, but they can't grab them if they're sitting on the bench. In the last game against MSU, Purdue's post players got 79 minutes. If that happens again, there's no excuse not to compete on the offensive glass.
As far as turnovers go, does Ronnie continue to value the ball like he has the last two games? Since finishing as co-champion of the impromptu turnover competition that broke out during the Indiana game, Ronnie has only surrendered the ball twice. But Michigan State is much better at forcing turnovers than either Northwestern or Penn State is. A third consecutive good performance today would be some solid evidence that young Ronnie has turned the corner as far as ball security goes.
3 They don't take very many threes.
For the conference season, about 27% of Michigan State's shots have been from distance, fewer than everyone in the Big Ten except for Purude and Ohio State. That may seem surprising since their threes killed us in East Lansing, but even in that game, fewer than 25% of the Spartans' shots were from behind the arc--the problem was that they hit over half of them. That and free throw shooting were the big difference in that first matchup.
What to watch for: Does Purdue tempt the Spartans from three? According to The Only Colors, Travis Trice is questionable for the game, while Gary Harris is likely to play but is not in great shape. Those two shoot over 40% from three, but without them, the team is right around 31%. Why not pack it in and try to keep Nix and Dawson from getting the ball while also keeping our bigs out of foul trouble?
Since I hadn't started doing these write-ups at the time of the first MSU game, I didn't have a good grasp of the Spartan's statistical profile. After looking at it, I felt happy because what I saw was a good but not great team--A team, moreover, who comes in battling injuries and has to play on the road. To me, that screams "toss-up game," whether the game's being held at the Bryce Jordan Mausoleum or the Kohl Center.
Aside from the
Indiana game Will Sheehey technical foul dress rehearsal, Purdue has been decent at home during conference play. In addition, the appearance of Stephen Toyra last game plus the extended minutes given to Donnie Hale gives me hope that Painter is ready to shake things up to get solid performances from whoever is ready on a given night.
So let's welcome the Year of the Snake with a surprise victory that gets us thinking NIT again and might even start those NCAA sugar plums dancing in dreamier heads. Am I stupid to predict a victory against a Top 10 team? Yes I am. Am I going to do it anyway? You betcha.
Purdue 66, Michigan State 63