4:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: -3, Over/Under: 148
For the second time this week, a seismic clash between Big Ten powerhouses stands front and center, as the Third-Ranked Purdue Boilermakers look to get back on track as they head to East Lansing to battle the Fourth-Ranked Michigan State Spartans at the Breslin Center. We said it earlier in the week, and we’ll say it again: this is the stretch of the season in which Purdue (23-3, 12-1 in Big Ten) will reveal just how good they really are. After stringing together a school record 19-Game Wining Streak that vaulted them to their highest ranking since Matt Painter arrived in West Lafayette, the Boilermakers reached the most pivotal point of their schedule, with back-to-back meetings with the Ohio State Buckeyes and the aforementioned Spartans, who were both breathing down their proverbial neck in the conference standings. Needless to say, the first leg of this test did not go the way that they would have liked, as they met defeat for the first time since late November by the most narrow of margins in a 64-63 thriller on Wednesday Night. There were two major factors that contributed their defeat, with their startling struggles on the glass serving as the first culprit; for a team with this amount of size and length, the fact that Painter’s charges have been outrebounded in seven consecutive games prior to this latest clash is pretty inexcusable, with Ohio State putting enough of a fight up to get the second-chance opportunities in the second half that they needed to pull off the upset. While the hosts managed to own a slim rebounding advantage (28-26), the visiting side did manage to secure three more boards of the offensive variety, including a crucial one in the waning minutes of the contest; with less than Ten Seconds remaining in the contest, Ohio State Forward Keita Bates-Diop battled his way through the trees, snaring a HUGE Offensive Rebound and Put-Back that gave his team the go-ahead score that ultimately sealed the deal. Again, this is a team that with Senior Center Isaac Haas (14.7 PTS, 61.6%, 5.3 REB, 1.3 BLK) and Freshman Matt Haarms (5.4 PTS, 62.8% FG, 3.3 REB, 2.5 BLK) both standing well over Seven-Feet, with another Senior, Vince Edwards (15.3 PTS, 48.3% FG, 42.3% 3FG, 7.8 REB, 3.0 AST) putting in plenty of work around the rim, should rarely get outworked on the glass. The other problem from Wednesday’s loss was Turnovers (12), which definitely ran counter to their form, particularly in league play, where they’ve only averaged 9.8 Turnovers per Game (2nd in Big Ten). At the end of the day, it was simply a case of one team creating extra opportunities with their energy and athleticism, and in turn making the most of it. Sophomore Guard Carsen Edwards (17.0 PTS, 47.6% FG, 40.4% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 3.0 AST, 1.2 STL) and the aforementioned Haas literally carried the Boilermakers, with the former scoring a career-high Twenty-Eight Points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, including 4-of-7 from downtown, while adding another Six Rebounds, Three Assists, and a pair of Steals. However, apart from those two players, they were only two other of their number that managed to score a single point, with their Bench failing to register a single point. Despite being an efficient, experienced team with plenty of size, Painter’s troops aren’t particularly deep or athletic, which are two weaknesses that were exposed against Ohio State. When this team has the opportunity to sit back in the Half Court they have the ability to really smother opponents with their size and length, but when the game speeds up they really lose that advantage in transition, with their cadre of Bigs getting lost on the Break. Essentially, their Plodders, not Athletes. It also tires them about a great deal, forcing Painter to go to his reserves for more frequently than he’d like. They’ll need to adjust on the fly today as they head to East Lansing, for they will be meeting another athletic unit that can really make them pay in the Open Court. With that said, Purdue have won each of their last three Regular Season Meetings with Michigan State, including their last trip to the Breslin Center back in January, 2017, an 84-73 victory that proved to be a pivotal decision in their path to an eventual Big Ten Championship.
Meanwhile, the race for the Big Ten Title is really heating up, folks, with Michigan State (23-3, 11-2 in Big Ten) set to take advantage of a golden opportunity as one of the teams that they’ve been chasing throughout the campaign, has begun to finally show some proverbial cracks in the armor. Since dropping two out of three contests shortly after the beginning of the conference schedule (including a crucial 80-64 loss at Ohio State which could prove to be huge later down the line), the Spartans have once again rounded into form, as they typically do in league play, winning seven consecutive outings. With that said, they were lucky to survive their latest opponent, Iowa, in which both sides cleared Ninety Points in a narrow 96-93 affair on Tuesday Night. After relegating five out of their previous seven opponents below Seventy Points, Tom Izzo’s charges were in for quite the surprise in Iowa City, where the struggling 12-14 Hawkeyes torched them on 52.2% shooting from the field, including 9-of-20 from beyond the arc (45.0%), all the while dishing out a staggering Twenty-Six Assists in comparison to a scant Six Turnovers. Simply put, this was the kind of lackluster defensive effort that no doubt drove a tactician like Izzo absolutely crazy. We could only imagine what practice was like afterwards in East Lansing… Anyways, getting back to the game, the Spartans were fortunate that they were able to meet their opponent’s blazing approach, shooting a white-hot 56.1% from the floor, including 8-of-17 from long-range, while dishing out Twenty Assists opposed to just Ten Turnovers. The difference though, was the impact that the visitors made at the Charity Stripe, where they netted 24-of-29 Attempts, owning a decisive Plus-12 advantage in Free-Throws. Sophomore Superstar Miles Bridges (17.7 PS, 48.3% FG, 36.9% 3FG, 7.2 REB, 2.9 AST, 0.6 STL, 1.0 BLK) was practically unstoppable scoring Twenty-Five Points on 8-of-14 Shooting from the floor (57.1%), along with 7-of-9 from the Free-Throw Line, while also registering Four Rebounds, Four Assists, and a Steal. Nick Ward (13.3 PTS, 69.5% FG, 7.5 REB, 0.5 AST, 1.5 BLK) added another Seventeen Points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field (77.8%), with Four Rebounds and a Steal, while Joshua Langford (13.0 PTS, 45.2% FG, 42.4% 3FG, 2.5 REB, 1.4 AST) posted Fifteen Points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field (55.6%) in the victory. Ironically, the biggest play of this shootout came on the defensive end of the floor, as Bridges made the play of the game coming up with a crucial Steal with five seconds remaining in the contest, ultimately icing the win for the visiting side. That game-winning play aside, the overall defensive performance was really a departure from the norm for a team that has always prided themselves on their defensive prowess under Izzo’s guiding hand, and on the whole of the season, they’ve stellar on this end of the floor; Michigan State leads not just the Big Ten in Defensive Field Goal Percentage (38.5%) and Defensive Two-point Field Goal Percentage (30.9%), but the entire country in those respective categories, while once again pacing the league in Rebounding, ranking tops in the conference in Total Rebounds (38.5) and Defensive Rebounds (28.8), along with Blocks (7.9). However, the reason that this team came into the season as Preseason No. One, wasn’t necessarily their sustained dominance on Defense, but their explosive play on the offensive end of the court; this may end up being one of Izzo’s best offense units, leading the Big Ten in Scoring (77.5) on 48.6% shooting from the field (3rd in Big Ten), including 40.7% from beyond the arc (2nd in Big Ten), while dishing out a nation-best 20.0 Assists per Game. With that said, their deadliest attribute may be their ability to get to the Free-Throw Line, where surprise, surprise, they’re on top of the conference; the Spartans lead the Big Ten in Free-Throws Attempted (230), Made (301), and Percentage (76.4%), all the while outscoring the opposition by 230 points in this regard. They’ll need to be firing on all cylinders as they enter this final leg of the Regular Season, for the vast majority of their upcoming contests will be played on the road, with three of their remaining five outings played away from the Breslin Center.