No. 4 Michigan State (23-3, 11-2 B1G) is gunning for its eighth straight win on Saturday, when they welcome to town the third-ranked Purdue Boilermakers (23-3, 12-1 B1G).
Matt Painter’s crew saw their 19-game winning streak come to an end on Wednesday when the 14th- ranked Ohio State Buckeyes went to Mackey Arena and came away with a 64-63 win. Carsen Edwards led the Boilermakers with a game-high 28 points, but it was OSU’s B1G Player of the Year candidate Keita Bates-Diop who put in the game-winning bucket off of a Jae’Sean Tate miss with 2.8 seconds.
Purdue let a 14-point second half slip away in a game at which one point looked like a sure win for the Boilermakers. Ohio State hounded Purdue’s guards, constantly disrupting its perimeter ball movement with plenty of length and tenacity. The Buckeyes held Dakota Mathias to just six points and forced him into five turnovers, a guy that gives it up just over 1.5 times per outing.
Rebounding will be a huge factor in the game, and spotlights some giant bodies underneath for both teams. In the Spartans’ three losses this year, they’ve been badly out-rebounded in those games and Purdue is coming off a game in which they gave up costly offensive boards down the stretch in its loss.
Statistically speaking, these two teams rank towards the top of the Big Ten in almost every statistical category. The Spartans sit atop the Big Ten in defensive rebounding with 30.1 per game, while the Boilermakers find themselves at the very bottom in offensive rebounds, grabbing just 8.8 per game. MSU will need to limit Purdue’s second chance points and keep big 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms off the glass as much as possible.
After chasing around Bates-Diop on Wednesday, Mathias, a member of the All-Defensive team in the Big Ten last season, will have another tough matchup, being tasked with defending Miles Bridges. The sensational sophomore, who was just selected as one of 10 finalists for the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award, is averaging 20.4 points over MSU’s seven-game win streak.
Saturday’s game features two of the top point guards in the conference and the country in Carsen Edwards and Cassius Winston. Edwards is seventh in the conference in scoring and leads the Boilermakers with 17 points per game and Winston ranks first in 3-point field goal percentage (52.5) and free throw percentage (90.6). Winston, who turns the ball over 2.6 times per game will need to be clean with the ball and will have to be disruptive defensively to slow down the Purdue guards
Tom Izzo didn’t play his best defender, Jaren Jackson Jr. on Mo Wagner a couple weeks back and MSU paid the price for it. Physically, Nick Ward will not be able to front the big 7-foot-2 man that is Haas for Purdue, so expect the nation’s third-leading shot blocker to have the tough assignment of defending him. With 91 blocks on the year, Jackson is more than capable of defending Haas, but more importantly, he’ll need to avoid early first half foul trouble to do so. With the way Haas has been officiated this year, early foul trouble could be hard to avoid.
Michigan State’s strength of schedule has been its achilles heel this season, currently ranking 114th in the country. Amongst the RPI top-50 teams, its strength of schedule ranking gives the the Spartans the fifth-worst ranking. Saturday’s game provides MSU its last chance to notch a signature win before heading to the Big Ten Tournament in the last week of February.
Ohio State’s win on Wednesday puts them atop the Big Ten, currently tied with Purdue at 12-1, but they hold the head-to-head nod over the Boilermakers. If the Spartans want to hoist the Big Ten regular season banner, in addition to them having to win out their final five games, they’ll need the Buckeyes to drop at least two of their last five contests.
A win on Saturday for MSU would not only would position themselves to play for the Big Ten title, but it’d also give them an inside track to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Midwest bracket of the NCAA tournament.
Ever since its loss to Ohio State a month ago, the Spartans have yet to regain that swagger they were confidently playing with at the beginning of the season. A win against a very good Purdue team would give MSU its chance to prove to themselves that they can be what they aspire to be and what they had thought of themselves at the start of the season.
Saturday’s game marks the fourth-ever Michigan State home game that features two teams ranked in the Associated Press top five, and the second time this season. Michigan State and Purdue will meet for the 122nd time, with Purdue leading the all-time series 68-53. Tipoff for Saturday’s game is set for 4 p.m. with Bob Wischusen and Dick Vitale on the call for ESPN.