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If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best

It's the first road test for the Baby Boilers tonight as they head into the Izzone at the Breslin Center to take on #6 Michigan State. Once again I am cursing the Big Ten Network for refusing to negotiate with BrightHouse Netwroks, thereby denying me the chance to watch this game, but it's also my loss for not staying over at work where we actually have it. The task before the Boilers is quite daunting, but the reward is great. No one will look down on the loss as a bad loss unless it is by 30 or so, and a win suddenly makes Purdue a very big player in the Big Ten. It would also erase the Wofford loss entirely, and give us one of the tier 3 wins we need.

Michigan State so far:

You can't argue with 13-1, but other than that Michigan State hasn't exactly been dominant. They have become the master of winning close games, as they are 6-1 in games decided by 10 points or less. The lone loss was to UCLA when the Bruins were ranked #1. This occurred on a neutral floor and Michigan State led most of the way. There is some hope for the Boilers, as the Spartans have struggled against the likes of Oakland, Bradley, and Minnesota. Two of those games came in the Breslin Center, and even the worst of the late Keady teams have played decently there.

Already Michigan State has beaten a pair of ranked teams in BYU and Texas. The BYU win is impressive as the Spartans went all the way to Utah to get it, while Texas came in Detroit. Also of note is the fact that Michigan State went into Missouri and came out with a three point win. If not for a collapse in the final seven minutes Purdue could probably say the same thing about its visit to Columbia, so we can look to that as a comparison. The Tigers are the only common opponent we share from the non-conference season.

Who is dangerous from Michigan State:

Raymar Morgan leads the Spartans at 18.4 points per game. Drew Neitzel is second at 13.7, but provides immeasurable amounts of senior leadership. They can go nine players deep that are averaging at least three points and 13 minutes per game, so they are a very fresh team for most of the game. You also won't find a better rebounding team in the league as they average more than 40 caroms per game. It's almost a rebounding by committee approach as Goran Suton and Morgan are the only players averaging more than five boards a game. What makes Spartan fans so excited is that they are young. Neitzel and Drew Naymick are the only seniors. Naymick at 6'10" also doesn't contribute like a 6'10" senior should, though he does play significant minutes.

Michigan State is currently number 2 in scoring in the league. They also play in one of the toughest venues in the conference. Most teams don't stand a chance in H to the Izzone when they walk in simply because the Spartans play so well at home. They've won 14 straight at home overall, and the last loss to an unranked team in the Breslin Center came almost two years ago. Both of those were to Ohio State, and last year the Buckeyes were one of the better teams in the country.

What not to fear from Michigan State:

In looking for a weakness in the Spartans I was encouraged by one thing: they rank near the bottom of the Big Ten in scoring defense. The Spartans regularly give up more than 60 points per game, but when you're scoring almost 70 and in 13 of 14 contests you've outscored your opponent that stat really doesn't matter. In almost every other category the Spartans are at the top of conference. They are the best shooting team, the best rebounding team, the best free throw shooting team, and they even block more than five shots per game.

I guess the only real weakness is that they have struggled at times this season against worse teams than Purdue, so if the Boilers can simply hang around and dictate the pace of things like they did early on against Clemson they have a shot. It's been a few months, but it is still troubling that this team lost to a D-II school in an exhibition game. With youth comes mental lapses, and this could turn into a battle of who has the fewest. Unfortunately the steady presence of Neitzel is a huge plus for Michigan State.

General Outlook:

Purdue is going to have to play a nearly perfect game in order to have chance at the upset. Chris Kramer needs to have his best game yet, and as I mentioned after the Michigan game, he needs to shoot the ball more. I understand he is hurting, but I am hurting too after playing my first church league game last night and I still managed to huff and puff my way to double figures! Imagine what a good player like Chris Kramer can do, instead of a streaky, undersized jump-shooter like me.

I also see Nemanja Calasan as a key to this game. We need him to be more dominant in the paint because his rebounding will be critical against one of the better rebounding teams on our schedule. His points, minutes per game, and rebounds have all been dwindling lately, and we need him to do more to have success in a conference where physical play is necessary. We would also be helped by E'Twaun Moore having a breakout game while everyone else plays their roles. I like the fact that, for whatever odd reason, Purdue plays better away from Mackey Arena. We've shown that we have the ability to compete in hostile environments from the Clemson and Missouri games, so if we can hang around and steal this one at the end it would be a huge step forward.

Of course, Michigan State is currently ranked sixth for a reason, and that is they are very, very good. I have a funny feeling about tonight. I feel we can pull off a shocking upset, but I guess I don't have the guts to call it.

Michigan State 70, Purdue 58