Preview - Michigan State vs. Purdue - Stopping the Spiral

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

MSU will look to bounce back after a -- let's say unexpected loss -- by facing the Boilermakers in West Lafayette.

YOUR MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS at THE PURDUE BOILERMAKERS

MACKEY ARENA, WEST LAFAYETTE, INDIANA

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20th, 7:00 PM EASTERN

TV: ESPN

RADIO: SPARTAN SPORTS NETWORK

Recently the Spartans' two high-profile players from Indiana have torched teams from the Hoosier state. Gary Harris has put up 50 total points against the Hoosiers in the Spartans' two wins against the crimson and cream this season, and Branden Dawson put up 34 points against the Boilermakers in two games last season. Dawson also went for 15 in a 2012 Spartan win, and two of those points were, very, very NSFPF (not safe for Purdue fans):

As brutal today as it was two years ago. Sadly, West Lafayette won't get the chance this season to experience a Dawson dunkaroo, as the forward is still out with *sigh* a broken hand.

Gary Harris and the rest of the Spartan contingent are healthy, and YES! That probably includes Keith Appling!

Rexrode elaborates further on Appling's health in an article at the Free Press, and here's the telling Keith Kuote:

"I was able to drive with my right hand," Appling said. "So at that point I knew I was getting over the hump a little bit. And then when I got to the gym, I was able to shoot and do some things with my right hand."

After months of quotes from Izzo that have said something to the effect of "injured player is day-to-day", it's refreshing to hear a quote that's definitive and positive about a player's health.  While it's nice to have Keith back, Adreian Payne is probably the player most needed in this game, if only for inside scoring against A.J. Hammons.

Hammons is a 7'0", 250 lb. sophomore who makes up for his offensive shortcomings by being in absolute force on the defensive end. He blocks 13.7% of opponents' two point attempts. That's best in the B1G and sixth best in division one. He's also a good rebounder, as his offensive rebounding percentage (10.8%) is 8th in the Big Ten and his defensive rebounding percentage (22.9%) 4th best in the conference.

On offense Purdue has a few players who can shoot the three; Kendall Stephens, Terone Johnson, and Ronnie Johnson are all 37% shooters from behind the arc. Purdue's two point percentage has opportunities for improvement, as its 258th in the nation at 46.4%.  They make up for their inaccuracy on their twos by boarding the heck out of their misses -- they've gotten 36.7% of said misses in conference play, second best to Iowa.

So how can the Spartans (WARNING: TOTALLY ORIGINAL JOKE AHEAD MUST CREDIT THE ONLY COLORS) derail the Boilermakers?

  • Get Hammons into foul trouble. Hammons has committed 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes this season, so this is in the realm of possibility. However, he draws 6.6 fouls a game, so Payne and Matt Costello will have to be cautious (Gavin Schilling is probably resigned to get two fouls in his first three minutes of play no matter what). I'm wary of Costello trying to post up Hammons, as even though Costello's offensive play has markedly matured this season, I think Hammons can still take him. However, Payne's array of post moves could get the seven-foot Boilermaker to overcommit.
  • COVER THE DARN BOARDS ON DEFENSE, GUYS. MSU has won a lot of games by stifling its opponents' field goal percentage, but in Purdue's case, they've been self-stifiling their shots all year. Their offensive efficiency is derived in great part from their offensive rebounding, so Payne, Costello, and Denzel Valentine will have to be on their toes here. This is where Michigan State is going to miss Dawson the most defensively.
  • Continue the alternating win-loss pattern, one last time. The pattern began in late January with the loss to Michigan, and has continued since then.  Get the win here, get the win against Michigan, go one game up in the Big Ten, then prepare for the final stretch.
Obviously, the Spartans can't afford to drop this one.  Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State in Columbus all loom on the schedule, and the Spartans are going to have to take at least two of three if not all three to win the title. Needless to say, a loss to Purdue will erase the Spartans' margin for error, if there is one currently, for the Big Ten title. It'll be intense, it'll be nerve-racking, it'll be worthwhile Big Ten basketball in February.
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