This is the biggest home game of the season. We knew it would likely be that even before the season started. As nice as it was to host an excellent team like West Virginia, that game meant squat in the Big Ten Standings. The same is true for the win over Wake Forest. We knew most of the year would build toward this point because it was projected to be the deciding game in the Big Ten race.
I would say it is even bigger now because of the Robbie Hummel injury (unless he is suddenly saved). I don't think I am exaggerating when I say it is the biggest game of the Matt Painter era so far. The national media has given up on us. I am to the point that I am ignoring most of them except ESPN's excellent blogger Eamonn Brennan. That is odd in its own right because he is an IU guy and former author at Inside the Hall, but at least he is in the minority opinion that all is not lost.
This is huge though because it is a chance to show that we are not as dead as people expect. With one win at home over an excellent Michigan State team we can prove that we are still a very good, very dangerous team without Robbie Hummel. Are we as good? Of course not. Beating Michigan State is the kind of statement we need though because a nice win will exhibit to the selection committee that we can play well without him. That group is the only one we really need to impress, everyone else (including the fool in the Fox Sports article that John linked yesterday) can go burn.
2009-10 Record: 21-7, 11-4 Big Ten
2008-09 Record: 31-7, 15-3 Big Ten (lost in National Championship game to North Carolina 89-72)
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 63-44
Last Purdue win: 76-64 on 2/9/10
Last Michigan State win: 62-51 at Michigan State on 3/8/09
Since Michigan State had its bye this week they have only played three games with Kalin Lucas fully back. It is hard to judge what they have learned since we beat them in East Lansing as well. They only won at Penn State and Indiana, the two worst teams in the league, while losing at home to Ohio State. Let's look at the first obvious factor that needs to be discussed though. What did Robbie Hummel do in the first game.
34 minutes, 15 points, 5-8 FG, 1-4 3FG, 4-4 FT, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal.
So that is what we must replace. Much was made about playing Michigan State the first time around without a healthy Kalin Lucas. Lucas, even at about 60%, still had a solid game of 12 points, but we can certainly expect more this time. The obvious factors are that we must replace Hummel's contributions while figuring out how to handle a completely healthy Lucas. Lucas did most of his damage by getting to the foul line (8 of 11), so we can't send him there with regularity again.
This game is about more than Lucas and Hummel though. Chris Allen took the role of "unexpected player who had a career night against us" that was most recently filled by Ralph Sampson III. He had 21 points, which is about 12 above his season average. Other than him, we did a great defensively on everyone else.
Michigan State went deep into its bench the first time around, and you can bet Tom Izzo will try to do that same again with us having a shorter bench ourselves. 11 players played for the Spartans, and 10 of them cracked the scoring column. They had a solid strategy too. They got to the foul line 30 times and tried to get us in foul trouble. What didn't help them was a 32% shooting percentage from the field.
Even without Hummel I feel like we have an advantage because of JaJuan Johnson. Michigan State really does not have an answer for him. This is a favorable matchup because the Spartans aren't an overly big team that can exploit our frontcourt deficiencies. Ultimately, that will probably be our downfall in the tournament, but as long as we don't run into teams that can exploit Robbie's absence on the defensive end I think we will be okay. When you look across college basketball there are really very few teams that can do that. I honestly fear teams like Illinois (with Davis and Tisdale) more than I do Villanova because they are worse matchups for us on the defensive end without Robbie. If we're facing guard heavy teams, like Michigan State, we can still compete and even thrive.
Michigan State did not have an answer for JJ the first time around. He had a 19 and 7 game and dominated the early going. Then there was E'Twaun. The Smoogernaut turned into the Assassin in the closing minutes with that huge three play sequence of 3-pointer, assist to Robbie, driving runner to close the game. His 25 was a season high and possibly his best game as a Boiler. You can't discount his six assists either.
What I am most interested to see is how Purdue responds defensively. Look at the closing moments of the Minnesota game. We're a good defensive team, but have you ever seen the ferocity that we played with to close that game? That is what you're going to get the rest of the season. We're in wounded animal mode now. It is going to take everyone, but I expect us to ratchet our defensive pressure even more and make life living hell for anyone we face. In that regard, we can replace Robbie's offensive contributions. As I have said all along: It is much easier to win basketball games when you prevent the other team from scoring. If we can hold someone to under 60 points we only need to score 60 ourselves to win. If this setback turns us into an even better defensive team so be it. All that matters is finishing with one more point than the other team. I don't care if we win 4-3 as long as we have the four.
Finally, you have to factor in the crowd at Mackey Arena. Normally, we have an excellent home court advantage. I think we will find another level on Sunday. I don't know if you believe in positive energy and how it can effect events, but if you do, this could be a huge difference. This crowd is going to do everything in its power to simply will Purdue to a win. As someone said in a comment of the last few days, if Purdue wins this game you may hear the loudest roar ever in Mackey Arena as the final horn sounds.
I will be there on Sunday. I am taking with me an attitude that this team will not quit on this season, so we should not quit on them. That is what I need out of the other 14,122 people that will be there. Let's support these guys. Let's be loud. They aren't going to quit for us, so let's not quit for them. We have the opportunity to give this team a huge boost on Sunday. Beating Michigan State would not only give us the conference title (most likely), but it would be a huge confidence boost before the tournament and prove that we're still a very, very good team. I want this crowd to be ready to bleed for this team, so let's get it done.
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Ratchet up the defensive intensity
- Move without the basketball on offense
- Keep JJ involved
- Get contributions from KG, LewJack, the Hitman, and GDB offensively
- Feed off the crowd
Purdue 67, Michigan State 63