Punch the Ticket: Michigan State vs. Purdue Preview

Your MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs. the PURDUE BOILERMAKERS
THE BRESLIN CENTER, EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN
SUNDAY, 1:00 ET
TV: ESPN (O'BRIEN/DAKICH); RADIO: WJR

So, it shouldn't be a secret anymore: Purdue's good.  Really good.  The coaches and media rank them as the eighth-best team in the country, and KenPom's computer is even more bullish on the Boilers, slotting them at #5.  It's not difficult to deduce why this is so: Purdue is tenth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, and sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency.  In JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, Purdue has two of the most talented and battle-tested players not merely in the conference, but also in the country, and a host of experienced role players round out the roster.  Matt Painter deserves all the accolades in the world for his coaching job this season.

The Boilers are riding a five game winning streak since a narrow loss at Wisconsin; that streak includes impressive wins at Illinois and against the Badgers and Ohio State in West Lafayette.  The victory against the Buckeyes was particularly impressive, as 1) any win over OSU this season is noteworthy in and of itself, and 2) Moore scored 38 points while shooting 70% from 3 in the win.  The Boilers' last game was a rather pedestrian win at Indiana, but the relative closeness of that game is certainly understandable, given the rivalry.  It seems clear that Purdue is peaking at the right time of the season.  A win in East Lansing will keep them firmly in the title race.

This is all quite jarring because the last time these two teams played, Purdue limped into the game -- they had lost 2 of 3 at that point, and the victory was by only one point -- and then played absolute lights-out basketball against Your Spartans:

The problem was, of course, on the other end, where the Purdue scorers simply could not be stopped.  Roe defended JaJuan Johnson about as well you can do it and Johnson still went for 20 points on 13 FGA.  E`Twaun Moore almost literally could not miss in the first half, finishing with 26 points on 18 FGA.  The only big individual Boilermaker performance you can really pin on the MSU defense was Lewis Jackson's (19 points on just 9 FGA).

Purdue's offensive efficiency of 132.3 was the highest posted against MSU since the NCAA Tournament loss to Memphis in 2008.  They were that good tonight.

There are reasons to believe that this game won't necessarily be like the last.  Some of that otherwordly offensive performance can be chalked up to the attendant circumstances: GameDay was in West Lafayette and the Mackey Arena crowd appeared to be truly raucous.  Purdue has been an outstanding team at home this season, but has already dropped games at Minnesota, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, in addition to a non-con loss at West Virginia and a neutral site loss against Richmond.  That being said, they won in East Lansing last year, and aren't likely to play tentative or scared basketball.

MSU is clearly a different team now than they were in late January -- and certainly a better one.  The loss at Purdue was the final game with Korie Lucious, and the Spartans were in the midst of their 1-5 conference season swoon.  Here's the thing, though: even with Lucas's bad game, the Spartans played pretty well on offense last time around against the Boilers

You know what?  That was pretty clearly Michigan State's best offensive performance of the season.  Against the 6th most efficient defense in the country, MSU scored 76 points in 65 possessions.  The resulting offensive efficiency mark of 116.9 is the second best number anyone's posted against the Boilermakers this year.  (And the numbers aren't just a function of scoring buckets late, in auto-foul mode; MSU's offensive efficiency was up over 110 the entire game.)

Even though Purdue averaged 1.3+ points per possession, the Spartans' own excellent offensive performance meant that the game wasn't totally out of reach until very late in the second half.  Most of MSU's struggles this season have been due to troubles on the offensive end; that clearly wasn't the case back in February.

No, for MSU to win this game, it's going to take an absolutely stand-out effort on defense.  Happily enough, MSU is coming off a game where they held Minnesota to .79 points per possession.  No matter how well MSU plays tomorrow, they're not going to match that number, but at the very least the team should be playing with quite a bit more confidence on the defensive end.  Izzo and the staff certainly know that they're going to struggle containing Johnson and Moore, but the continuing emergence of Keith Appling and Mike Kebler certainly gives MSU more options against Moore, and ditto for Payne and Nix against Johnson.

The overriding key is to figure out a way to make Purdue waste possessions -- and that's a very difficult thing to do.  In conference play, the Boilers have turned the ball over on only 15.4% of their offensive possessions, and they've rebounded 33.6% of their missed shots.  As a result, they get more opportunities at the basket than any other team  in the conference, and just about any in the country.  So, this is a team that can beat you methodically, as the statistics show, or explosively, as we saw first-hand in the last game, and in Moore's 38-point outburst against Ohio State.  Sheesh.

Each team clearly has something to play for here.  As I said in the title, MSU can more-or-less cement an NCAA tournament berth with a win.  Purdue's playing for seeding, but more importantly, to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive.  KenPom is calling for a 69-64 Purdue victory, and gives MSU a 33% chance of victory.  The players were given days off on Wednesday and Thursday, which should portend good things for Delvon Roe and Lucas.  A win and things are looking positively rosy for the first time in months; a loss will create a couple of anxious matchups against Iowa, who routed MSU the first time around, and at Michigan, who look like serious tournament contenders once again.

Do join us in the game thread tomorrow afternoon.

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