Michigan State and Purdue face-off this Sunday in a showdown between two traditional Big Ten heavyweights that promises to be quite the show.
Who: 8. Michigan State Spartans (13-3, 5-0) vs. Purdue Boilermakers (9-7, 2-3)
When: Sunday, January 12th at 12:00 PM
Where: Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, IN
TV Schedule: CBS
The top two teams in the Big Ten last year, Michigan State and Purdue face off for the first time this season trending in the opposite direction. Michigan State comes into West Lafayette having won 8 games in a row and looking a lot more like the favorite to win the Big Ten they started the year as. After dropping a few close games to start the year, the Spartans are playing a lot better basketball, much more the speed of Tom Izzo’s teams.
Purdue is returning home after two losses on the road and needing the comforts of their own court. The Boilermakers were looking scary earlier this season following their 69-40 clobbering of Virginia in the Big Ten ACC Challenge. Purdue has looked more vulnerable recently and looks to right the ship with their return home.
By far the best player on the court, and arguably one of the top three in the nation, Cassius Winston scored 23 points in each game against the Boilermakers last season, which the two schools split. Winston will need to be sharp again in order for the Spartans to remain undefeated in the Big Ten this season. Currently leading the team in ppg and apg, Winston scored only 7 points with 2 assists in MSU’s toughest loss this season, a 71-66 defeat to Virginia Tech in the Maui Invitational. Slowing Winston down will be the top priority for Purdue’s defense. If Winston does have an off-night, second and third-leading scorers Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry will need to step up for MSU to stay in the game.
Speaking of Purdue’s defense, it has been the strongest aspect of the team this season so far. The team currently ranks 12th in the nation in opponent’s ppg and 28th in opponent’s 3pt fg%. One area in which the Boilermakers have struggled is in rim protection. As a tea,m Purdue has only blocked 53 shots as a team, and no one besides Matt Haarms (2.2 bpg) averages more than 0.5 bpg. With Haarms only averaging 25 minutes per game this year, that’s almost half the game with very little rim protection for Purdue. MSU will look to exploit that by looking to get Haarms in foul trouble and attacking the basket while he’s on the bench.
Another big advantage for Purdue is playing on their homecourt. Mackey Arena is one of the toughest places to play in the nation, and a game against a top ten opponent will bring out the loudest students possible. The Boilermakers have only lost once at home this season and did not lose a single game at Mackey last year. For their part, MSU has won their only two true road games this year, at Seton Hall and at Northwestern. However, the two wins were by a combined 8 points. A 5-point victory at Northwestern is particularly troubling as the Wildcats (Kenpom: 101) are currently pretty solidly at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, sorry for any ‘Cats fans reading. If it means anything by comparison, Purdue beat Northwestern by 14 at home earlier in the year.
Overall, the Spartans are the much more talented of the two teams. Cassius Winston will be a Naismith player of the year Finalist and he is surrounded by a mix of quality role players. Purdue has struggled to find a go-to scorer for themselves this year after the departure of Carsen Edwards for the NBA. Someone on the Boilermakers will need to step up for them to beat the Spartans. In this important game, the winner will gain a lot of momentum as the two teams head into the heart of their impending Big Ten schedules. And in an absolutely loaded conference this year, every win counts.
Final Prediction: Michigan State – 60, Purdue – 57