Purdue still has a very long road to go if it is going to make the NCAA Tournament, but beating a second straight top 25 team, this one coming on the road, would be an excellent start to that road. As I have said all along, the Big Ten schedule provides ample opportunity to make up for non-conference indiscretions. The Big Ten slate still offers nine more games against current top 25 foes. Purdue likely needs to win at least three of those nine, plus not drop any games outside the top 25, to have a realistic shot at an at large bid.
The second of three straight ranked-team games comes tomorrow in East Lansing.
Michigan State Spartans
Location: East Lansing, Michigan
2011-12 record: 29-8, 13-5 Big Ten
2012-13 Record: 11-3, 0-1 Big Ten
2012 Postseason: Lost to Louisville 57-44 in NCAA Sweet 16
Blog Representation: The Only Colors (Chris Vannini's Preview)
Series With Purdue:Purdue leads 65-48
Last Purdue win: 67-47 on 2/27/2011 at Michigan State
Last Michigan State win: 76-62 on 2/19/2012 at Purdue (has won three straight)
TV: Big Ten Network
Odds: No Line
It is hard to get a bead on Michigan State so far. They opened with a close loss to Connecticut in Germany before knocking off Kansas on a neutral floor. They are just 1-2 in true road games, winning at Bowling Green but losing at Miami (FL) and Minnesota. They cannot afford to fall to 0-2 in the league even with a nice three game stretch of at Iowa, Nebraska, at Penn State following.
The Miami game likely give Purdue its best blueprint on how to beat the Spartans. The Hurricanes have a solid 7-foot true center in Reggie Johnson who had 10 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks. A similar effort from A.J. Hammons would be greatly beneficial. He limited Adreian Payne to four points and five rebounds as Payne battled foul trouble. Trey McKinney-Jones hit five threes, so he needs to be our D.J. Byrd archetype. Finally, Durand Scott's 15-6-2 line should be Terone Johnson's goal. Combined with some pretty good defense, the ‘Canes pulled off a nice upset.
They had the advantage of being at home, however. Purdue must travel to East Lansing and hopefully last year's travel debacle won't repeat itself. With a little more luck Michigan State will continue the slump that led to Minnesota closing this week's game on an 18-2 run in the final seven minutes.
The Spartans are led by another experienced guard in Keith Appling. Appling averages 14.9 points and 4.1 assists per game and is dangerous at the free throw line. The one that got away, Gary Harris, is having a solid freshman season at 12.3 points per game as a pure scorer. Derrick Nix is the lone senior on the roster and he averages 8.9 per game with 7.5 rebounds. Branden Dawson has had some good moment since tearing his ACL last season, averaging 9.6 per game with 5.9 rebounds.
As usual, this is a fantastic rebounding team that creates a ton of second chance opportunities. Dawson, Nix, and Payne have been especially effective at cleaning the offensive glass. That makes the matchup between them and Hammons with Jacob Lawson very fascinating.
Michigan State hasn't shot the three a whole lot, settling instead of drives to the basket. Travis trice is the dangerous three-point specialist off the bench at 4&% on the year, but only Appling and Harris shoot it a lot. This is a very balanced team. Denzel Valentine plays significant minutes as another freshman while Russell Byrd and Brandan Kearney also log big minutes.
The biggest battles will be Hammons and Lawson vs. Payne and Nix. I'd have to give the advantage here to the MSU guys simply on experience. Lawson had early foul trouble against Illinois and Purdue wasn't able to get the ball to Hammons much in that game.
On the perimeter TJ needs to keep Appling in check like we kept Brandon Paul in check. Unfortunately, Harris is a mismatch that will be difficult to defend.
When I see the Spartans I see a team that is very similar to Purdue, but with more experience. Purdue grew up a lot in the final 12 minutes against the Illini on Wednesday, so that growth will be tested immediately. The Spartans have struggled just a little in the conference with closer than expected wins over Boise State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Loyola (IL). They want to get the ball inside to the Nix-Dawson-Payne trio and that group can just pound you. In addition to Hammons and Lawson I expect Donnie Hale and Travis Carroll to rotate in We may even see a little Sandi Marcius if fouls and such dictate it.
Since the Spartans have the more experience overall I tend to favor them.
Crow until Tuesday about the first place Boilers if:
- The A.J. Hammons vs. Oregon State shows up
- D.J. continues to shoot well
- The driving lanes open up for the Johnsons
- TJ continues to be the leader we need
- Lawson and Hammons avoid foul trouble
Wait patiently for more growth if:
- The Nix-Payne-Dawson trio dominates
- Harris reminds us painfully of what we missed on
- Trice gets lost for more than three threes
- Purdue lacks the defensive intensity it had vs. Illinois
Prediction: Michigan State 67, Purdue 61