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#3 Purdue vs. #4 Michigan St.: 5 questions

Ahead of the top-5 match-up, we’ve got five questions that could answer the game.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

This afternoon, #4 Michigan St. will play host to #3 Purdue. It is the only match-up between the B10’s two best teams and a rare marquee match-up for a conference that only has three teams in the top 25.

For Purdue, it will be a chance to make up for a lost opportunity after losing at home to Ohio St. Wednesday. They will need to win to control their own destiny in the B10 race.

For Michigan St., it is even more important. They already have two losses in the B10, a third would probably eliminate any realistic chance to sit on top the conference. It’s hard to imagine either Ohio State’s or Purdue’s remaining schedule would have two losses for either of them.

But the Spartans are still very much in play for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. A win against Purdue would put them right into the driver’s seat Purdue was sitting in after their 19 straight wins. The winner of this game almost locks into that #1 seed barring unforeseen trip ups in their last few regular season games.

To get ready for this big game, let’s ask five questions.

What Miles Bridges will show up?

In Bridges first game against Purdue as a freshman, he dropped an incredible 33 points. He knocked down 5 of his 8 three-pointers and was the only consistent option on offense against a Purdue team that bested the Spartans twice last year. In his second game against Purdue he knocked down 4 three-pointers but those 12 points were the only ones he scored.

Miles Bridges is a strange case. He’s probably playing out of position at small forward despite shooting the ball well from three at 37%. But he’s only taken 81 free throw attempts on the year despite being one of the best athletes in the conference and a match-up nightmare considering his quickness and strength.

Expect Dakota Mathias to focus in on Bridges. If Mathias can make Keita Bates-Diop work, the smaller Bridges could be frustrated into taking quick shots and settling around the perimeter. As much as the cast around Bridges has improved this year, it’s still his show. A big performance and it’ll be hard to hold the Spartans offense down.

Can Purdue’s guards win their match-ups?

Carsen Edwards is the best guard in the B10. That might have started as a homer saying at the beginning of the year, it’s now a certainty. He’s been incredible. He just set a new career-high in Purdue’s biggest game of the season, and he’s been on fire from beyond the 3-point line. He’s creating for his teammates while solving his turnover problems. He’s had 3 assists and 1 turnover in the last three games. He’s only had one multi-turnover game in the last 9 games.

His back-court partner P. J. Thompson has always stood for reliable and smart, a fan-favorite in a fan’s body. He’s made himself into one of the best point guards in the conference. He was shooting nearly 50% from three, but he just no-showed against the Buckeyes, missing all 5 of his shots. P. J. doesn’t turn the ball over, but he also doesn’t create offense. He hasn’t had more than two assist since Purdue’s game against Minnesota in early January. If he’s not hitting his jump shots, he’s a complete neutral on offense. He’s just 4 of his last 17 attempts from three in his last four games.

For the Spartans, Cassius Winston has the second best 3 pt% in the country, making over half his 101 attempts and Joshua Langford is a 40% three-point shooter with a 6’5” frame that could give the small Boiler back court trouble. Containing the Spartan guards will be Coach Painter’s #1 goal. If Purdue has a defensive flaw, it’s handling the pick and roll.

Can Dakota Mathias take over a half?

We’ve seen it in small stretches where Mathias gets hot and starts making shots from everywhere. It’s vital to this offense to have one of their shooters go off. Carsen Edwards, Vincent Edwards, and Isaac Haas have been consistent throughout the year, but Purdue needs someone else to have a big game. They had just four players score points against Ohio State. Purdue is going into a hostile environment, and we’ve Mathias take over road crowds and he’ll need to have at least a flash of it to take the pressure off the Purdue offense and bail them out of possessions.

He’s been quietly heating up from deep. He’s averaging over three made 3’s a game in the last six, shooting over 52%, but he’ll probably need to do even more than that if Purdue is gonna get out of East Lansing with a victory.

Can Ward challenge Haas?

The answer last year was no. An emphatic no. In two games last year against Purdue, Ward played 31 minutes. In those 31 minutes he scored 15 points, 3 rebounds, and accrued 9 fouls. Purdue will need this match-up to continue to be a one-sided affair.

Ward relies on bullying. He’s expanded his game this year, but he still likes to use his ass to hold position and strength his way to the basket. He couldn’t move Haas last year, and he shouldn’t be able to this year. Purdue doesn’t have a bunch of obvious advantages, they’ll need this one.

What do you do with Jaren Jackson?

I have no idea. Thank goodness Coach Painter is smarter than me. He’s one of the best coaches in the country at designing a defensive to take away one player. Purdue switched every screen against Michigan’s Mo Wagner and while the sight of 5’11 P. J. Thompson guarding a 7 footer down in the post is scary, it kept Wagner from going off.

Jackson is an even tougher guard. He’s a 44% three-point shooter, he makes his free throws, and he’s an incredible athlete. Matt Haarms is probably the only answer that makes you feel good. He’s got the length and quickness to stick with Jackson, but the freshman is super eager to block every shot at the rim. He gets out of position too soon to help contain ball handlers, and if Jackson gets even a little space he is a nightmare.

But that sounds better than if he gets matched up on Haas who just doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stick near Jackson. Expect Vincent to get some time on Jackson and maybe even Mathias, if Coach Painter wants to crowd the big man and make him uncomfortable. When Eastern is on the floor, expect him to double all MSU’s bigs and try and use his length to disrupt them.