The 15-4 Boilers will travel to E. Lansing on Wednesday to play the 14-4 Spartans. This is a key match up as Purdue sits in third place behind only Ohio State and Maryland. The Spartans are only a half game back from Purdue in the conference standings at this point in the season. Purdue is in the midst of a tough series of games, with home and away games against the Terrapins coming up soon.
The one point loss to Nebraska on Thursday at home really hurt. That was a game the Boilers should have won. But when you play 3 bad quarters it is hard to make it all up in the 4th. Of course we know that the comeback came up only one point short and Purdue had the chance to make a game winning shot which never materialized.
However, on Sunday the Boilers put on perhaps their best offensive performance of the year against a quality opponent in Iowa, while playing good enough defense to wear down the jump shooting Hawkeyes in the 4th quarter. Historically under Coach V. Purdue has been on average a team that plays low scoring games, playing tough defense while being challenged to put up a ton of points. Against Iowa the layups and jump shots just continued to go in for most of the game. Iowa put up a valiant effort with some excellent shooting, which is to be expected. When does Iowa ever have a poor shooting team? Not since I can remember.
The Spartans present other challenges. They are better defensively than Iowa, and have more seasoned veteran players. The Boilers will have to be on their game on both ends of the floor to win this one. We have seen them do this, so we know it can be done. Obviously it is also going to be a challenging game being a conference road game. All of those are tough, especially this season.
Both teams have had a common opponent in Louisville, with Purdue winning a close one and Michigan State losing. However, doing analysis on common opponents doesn't necessarily mean a lot. Sometimes it comes down to different factors such as particular match ups or who has the hot hand. Another common opponent is Indiana, and that is surprising, as the Spartans got for all practical purposes blown out by the Hoosiers. That just shouldn't happen, and it should give us some hope. Not that IU doesn't have some good players, but MSU is on most any given day a better team. Well, stuff happens. Like Purdue losing to a rebuilding Nebraska team in a game where the net seemingly could not be found for most of the game.
MSU has their fearsome foursome of Powers, Jankoska, Agee, and Hines. Hines has been there forever, Jankoska and Powers are Juniors in eligibility, and Agee is a RS sophomore. Also, eighth year coach Suzie Merchant knows what she is doing. She has fielded a competitive team every year, sometimes with a plethora of injuries to deal with. She and Coach Versyp will have a real chess match on their hands.
Of course Purdue also has their fearsome foursome of Wilson, Morrissette, Keys, and Perry. Horrocks has started to come up to speed in her sophomore year and take advantage of her length, which is much needed, while Thornton and Keisler have hung in there at the center position fairly well. The amazing most improved player this year, though, has to be Dominique McBryde. She is steadily becoming a force to be reckoned with as a true freshman forward. One need to look no further than her last two games. Had Shepherd at Nebraska not gone on a historic two game run, McBryde should have won B1G freshman of the week honors. She is showing a well rounded game, but perhaps besides shot blocking (8 in the past 2 games), she has really looked good getting the ball in the basket from close range with either hand. Against Iowa there was one shot in particular where she just muscled up a highly contested shot from maybe 2-3 feet from the basket and nailed it without using the backboard. That showed right there that no freshman wall is being hit by McBryde in conference play. The future looks bright at the forward position, with Perry still working hard and looking like more of a stretch forward all the time. Jasmine Hines can be a load down low, but Purdue will be able to put some bodies on her. I would give the edge in this game down in the rough land called the post to our Boilers. But it won't be easy.
Then of course there is Aerial Powers. She can do it all, and can literally take over a game sometimes when the mood strikes her. Purdue will have to muster up all the defensive weapons it has just to keep her in check, and she will probably get her points and stats regardless. So the game may come down to how Purdue defends their other top players. Jankoska isn't to be taken for granted either, as she seems to just embody the blue collar approach that Coach Merchant likes. Speaking of blue collar, in a way both of these teams seem to have that kind of mentality. Not that neither team can make finesse kinds of shots. It should be a very competitive and hard fought game, and I would predict a very close game no matter what the final score.
It got under the skin of our Boilers to lose by 20 to OSU, then blow one against a rebuilding Nebraska squad. The Iowa game was quite a statement game that this team of ours really hates to lose. Both players and coaches don't shy away from going back to the drawing board to rebound from subpar stretches of games and play well. It might have helped Purdue if Maryland had worn down the Spartans a bit on Monday, but the game was postponed due to the ultimate east coast blizzard. Even so, based on Purdue's lockdown defense, team speed, and mind set right now, I am going out on a limb and predicting that Purdue steals one on the road this coming Wednesday.
Prediction: Purdue 71 - Michigan State 67.