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It's Now or Never: Michigan State-Purdue Preview

SUNDAY, 4:00 PM (ET)
TV: CBS (Lundquist, Kellogg)
ENEMY BLOGS: Hammer and Rails, Purdue BBall Blog, Boiled Sports

With 4 losses in the last 6 games, it sure doesn't feel like MSU should be playing for a share of the Big Ten title at this point. But here we are nonetheless. Win tomorrow, and a piece of the conference crown becomes a reality if the team just takes care of business in two remaining games at home vs. lower division teams. Lose, and it's all over but the crying (and postseason play, I suppose).

Going into the first meeting between these two teams, I beat the game preview right into the ground. I'll try to keep this one shorter. To quote/update myself in the previous preview:

This team really needs very little introduction to Michigan State fans. The top five players in the rotation--Robbie Hummel, E`Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, Chris Kramer, and Keaton Grant--have been the core of Matt Painter's team for the last 3 years. In fact, with the exception of Johnson as a freshman, that group of five has led the team in minutes played in each of the last 3 seasons.

The Boilermakers' tempo-free profile, therefore, doesn't come as much of a surprise. They force tough shots (41.8 Opp 2pt%), win the turnover battle by a large margin (16.4 vs. 24.1 23.4), rebound the ball adequately on defense (Opp OReb% of 30.8 30.0), and don't worry too much about going after their misses (OReb% of 33.1 32.2).

Of course, the removal of Robbie Hummel from the Boilermaker lineup could affect that equation for success. The Geeks highlighted (highlit?) the area where Hummel's absence may hurt the most:

Namely, he doesn't turn the ball over. Ever. Consider that in the Big Ten Conference season, Hummel has the following totals:

  • 167 FGAs
  • 110 rebounds
  • 36 assists
  • 74 free throw attempts

Those totals indicate a highly active player who frequently has the ball in his hands. Despite that, Hummel has a mere 14 turnovers in 15 games. Contrast that with Johnson, who has 30 turnovers, or Moore, with 39. Hummel's primary attribute is his ability to create possessions that end with a shot attempt, and he's the primary reason why Purdue is among the best in the nation at holding onto the ball.

Purdue certainly has some very good scoring options remaining. JaJuan Johnson and E`Twaun Moore are both legitimate 20-point scorers. Each player has hit that mark 5 times in conference play. And Keaton Grant has stepped up on offense of late, scoring 38 points on 7-15 three-point shooting in the last 3 games.

But Hummel was the guy who keeps the offense running cohesively and prevents the attack from bogging down into a series of one-on-one moves. His ball-handling skills and 3-point shooting ability created a mismatch against most teams at the 4 spot.

Game planning for Purdue has become an easier task for Tom Izzo. He'll be able to devote more resources to compensating for the height mismatch Johnson has against the MSU big men and try to force the non-Johnson/Moore/Grant Boilermakers to beat us.

While Matt Painter has quite a few bodies he can throw out on the floor to fill Hummel's minutes, none of them are great scoring options. There have been only 3 double-digit scoring games by Purdue players other than Hummel/Moore/Johnson/Grant in conference play (one each by Chris Kramer, John Hart, and Kelsey Barlow). Meanwhile the player most likely to see his minutes go up because of Hummel's injury, Patrick Bade, has scored a total 8 points in Big Ten play--and 5 of those came in the conference opener vs. Iowa.

On defense, Purdue remains pretty scary. Me, quoted again:

The horror-inducing aspect of Purdue's defensive profile for any MSU fan is, of course, their ability to create turnovers--buckets and buckets of turnovers The brand of aggressive man-to-man defense Matt Painter preaches is exactly the kind of defense that disrupts Tom Izzo's set-play-heavy offense.

Purdue's turnover creation numbers are down a tad this season, but you can expect them to exert even more energy trying to wreak havoc on the MSU offense in an attempt to compensate for not having Hummel in the lineup. And Chris Kramer appears to be back to his fully-disruptive self; he's played 30+ minutes in each of Purdue's last 4 games, posting 8 steals and 3 blocks in those contests.

MSU actually managed to limit their turnovers in the first match-up with Purdue, turning it over just 9 times in 64 possessions. The first goal on offense will be a repeat performance in the ball-handling department (with a near-100% Kalin Lucas in the lineup this time), rather than a reversion to the 25%+ TO% performances the Spartans have posted in the previous 4 games against Purdue over the previous two seasons.

To beat a drum I've nearly worn through at this point one more time: If the Boilermakers are going to extend their man-to-man defense out past the 3-point line, then the Spartan players need to make decisive moves with the ball going toward the basket. Otherwise, you allow Purdue to disrupt MSU's offensive sets without paying any price in return.

The second goal on offense will be to take advantage of the mismatch that now runs in the other direction at the 4 spot, which will be manned for Purdue by either the inexperienced Bade or the undersized Kramer. In the first MSU-Purdue game, Draymond Green, Raymar Morgan, and Delvon Roe combined to make just 3 of 23 shots from the field. That shooting percentage needs to go up dramatically. If Kalin Lucas and Chris Allen can keep up with Moore and Grant in terms of perimeter scoring, then the MSU front line just needs to collectively outplay JaJuan Johnson.

Hummel's absence also means Purdue will be playing without its best defensive rebounder. Spartan dominance on the offensive glass will be a prerequisite to a victory. Hopefully, the Purdue guards being forced to pitch in with defensive rebounding will also prevent the Boilermakers from scoring transition points--potentially slowing down a now-healthy Lewis Jackson (15 assists in the last 4 games).

KenPom predicts a 73-64 Purdue win in a 69-possession game. With Hummel out, the point spread will get squeezed down some, but Purdue remains the favorite. JaJuan Johnson has a serious mismatch on offense, and the odds of an MSU turnover explosion in what will be an extremely hostile setting remain sizable. Still, this game looks a lot more winnable than it did 3 days ago.