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It seems like just yesterday they were Baby Boilers: MSU-Purdue Preview

ENEMY BLOGS: Hammer and Rails, Purdue BBall Blog, Boiled Sports

Boilermaker bullets:

  • Overall record of 19-3; conference record of 7-3
  • Key wins: Tennessee (neutral), Wake Forest, at Alabama, West Virginia, at Illinois, Wisconsin
  • Key All losses: at Wisconsin, Ohio State, at Northwestern (consecutively)
  • KenPom ranking: #10.  #22 on offense, #17 on defense.
  • 12 players averaging 7 minutes per game!  Alright, that's skewed by (1) John Hart's emergence and (2) Lewis Jackson's injury.  Still, this is a pretty deep team relative to recent Purdue squads.
  • Not so deep in terms of scoring options, though: 3 players averaging 14+ points per game (Hummel/Moore/Johnson).  No one else above 6 per game.
  • Johnson lead the way on the offensive boards (2.7/game), Hummel on the defensive boards (5.5/game).
  • No Purdue player is averaging more than 2.3 turnovers per game (Moore).

[Warning: Anxiety-induced excessively-detailed/lengthed, not-necessarily-fully-coherent previewing ahead.]

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), rebound the ball adequately on defense (Opp OReb% of 30.8), and don't worry too much about going after their misses (OReb% of 33.1).

The one oddity is that, after two consecutive years of being much better on defense than on offense, the 2010 edition of the Purdue basketball team is suddenly quite balanced.  The regression on defense can be traced to two factors, both of which may be of minimal benefit to MSU:

  • Opponents are shooting the ball quite well from 3-point range (36.7%).  In fact, 5 of Purdue's last 6 opponents have been at 39% or better from beyond the arc.  Still, Purdue's man-to-man defense doesn't result in a lot of opposing 3-point attempts, and MSU doesn't take very many shots from beyond the arc.
  • The Boilermakers are fouling more frequently, allowing their opponents to post a combined free throw rate of 39.8.  That appears to be at least partially a function of breaking in three freshmen on defense: Kelsey Barlow, D.J. Byrd, and Patrick Bade are all causing over 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes.  That issue may be rectifying itself, though, as only 3 of 10 Big Ten opponents have posted FTRs above 40.

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.

True to form, the Boilermakers are causing opponents to turn the ball over on nearly 1 out of every 4 possessions this season.  With Kalin Lucas either not playing or playing at well under 100%, that statistic is particularly scary this time around.  Even with a health Lucas, MSU has turned the ball over on at least 25% of possessions in each of the 4 match-ups with Purdue over the last 2 seasons.

If there's a tiny, pinhole-sized statistical ray of hope, it's that Purdue hasn't been quite as impressive in the turnover-creation department in recent weeks.  Five of their last 9 opponents have actually held on to the ball on more than 80% of their possessions.  That may be a function of the fact that the Boilermaker turnover-creator-in-chief, Chris Kramer, has been dealing with ankle injury and has only posted multiple steals in 3 of those 9 games.  The Purdue Basketball Blog noted the following after Purdue's closer-than-expected (but nevertheless-gangsta-rap-inciting) win over Indiana last week:

Chris Kramer needs a vacation. I hope he's sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber this weekend in preparation for the Michigan State game. He has a consistent look of pain and exhaustion.

Still, it's hard to see Purdue not coming out as aggressively as possible on defense in a game they really need to win to stay in the Big Ten title hunt--particularly in light of how well that strategy's worked for them against MSU in the past.  Further, the fact that the lightning-quick Lewis Jackson is back from a foot injury and will be available to harass whoever's bringing the ball up the floor for MSU for 15-20 minutes will not help our cause.  (Not to mention the fact that Kramer has had 4 full days between games for his ankle to heal.)

Offensively, Purdue has improved significantly from last season.  That's largely been a function of scoring more efficiently around the basket.  The team is shooting 52.0% on 2-point attempts, led by their three offensive leaders:

  • Robbie Hummel is making 52.4% of his 2-point attempts, to go along with a 3-point shooting percentage of 36.5 and a Shawn Respert-like free throw percentage of 90.1.  Combined with a miniscule turnover rate of just 8.5%, Hummel's stats equate to a stellar offensive rating of 124.6.
  • E'Twaun Moore is making an extremely-impressive-for-a-shooting-guard 56.0% of his 2-point attempts to go with an adequate 3-point shooting percentage of 35.9.  After an up-and-down sophomore season, Moore has been much more consistent this season, having scored in double digits in every game except the season opener.  He comes in having made 7 of 14 three-pointers over the last 4 games.
  • JaJuan Johnson is shooting 53.6% on 2-point attempts, supplemented by a free throw rate of 59.6.  He's turning those trips to the free throw line into points at a pretty efficient rate (72.9) for a 6'10" player.  After a rough stretch to start Big Ten play--scoring double digits against just 1 of the team's first 5 conference opponents--Johnson is averaging 18.6 points on 11.2 FGA over the last 5 games.

Hummel and Johnson both represent difficult match-ups for MSU.  Assuming Lucas' minutes are limited, you'd think Tom Izzo will need to stick with bigger lineups.  (I'd rather not see much, if any, of Dahlman and Thornton against the Purdue defense.)  That means Delvon Roe, Garrick Sherman, and Derrick Nix will need to play good position defense on Johnson.  Johnson will be able to shoot the ball over all three of those guys, so they'll need to make sure he's taking the shots from 15 out rather than 10.  Johnson doesn't pass the ball much (Assist Rate = 4.7), so he's not nearly as dangerous if he's out away from the basket.

Draymond Green and Raymar Morgan, meanwhile, will try to keep up with Hummel.  Given how fundamentally sound Hummel is with the basketball, Green will need to keep his feet moving to avoid blocking calls and Morgan will need to resist the temptation to reach for the ball.

Even if MSU can neutralize Hummel and Johnson, Moore remains as the wild card.  Here's what BoilerTMill recently had to say about Moore:

I don't want him to have the nickname of Smooge anymore. I say we go with "The Assassin". He is fulfilling the role I said he would before the season: The guy that gives us a basket when we absolutely need it. Right before halftime last night he hit a big three. As Delaware Boiler said in the OpenThread after that shot, "Just hit the red button with Moore". E'Twaun has been our most consistent player this year. He has been in double figures in every game except the opener against Cal State Northridge. His last two games have actually been his worst scoring-wise in Big Ten play, but he is providing offense when we need it. He is also dropping dimes and grabbing necessary rebounds at times. He also has a sense of The Moment, as evidenced by his killer floater with 1:19 left.

MSU's defensive approach will presumably be to hedge even more than normal off shooters to prevent Purdue's big three from getting good looks around the basket.  Outside of Hummel and Moore, the three Purdue players with 50 or more 3-point attempts this season (Keaton Grant, Ryne Smith, and D.J. Byrd) are all shooting below .300.  Freshman John Hart is an X-factor, having scored 28 points in 78 minutes since springing forth from the very end of the bench to help push Purdue over the top against Illinois 5 games ago.

KenPom basically has this game as toss-up, with MSU winning 72-71 in a 69 possession game.  Given (1) how Purdue's defense gives MSU fits and (2) that the first problem is greatly exacerbated by the fact that the one guy who can consistently make teams pay for overplaying on the perimeter was wearing an immobilizing boot a few days ago, it's hard to not think Purdue goes into his game with a decided advantage.

MSU will need to implement the positives from the Illinois game--getting Draymond Green, Raymar Morgan, and Durrell Summers the ball in position to make plays--without the negatives--turnovers.  The shot-blocking presence of JaJuan Johnson (2.0 per game) will add to the challenge.  A repeat performance of Chris Allen's 3-point barrage against the Illini would help.  Finally, a healthy dose of second-chance points will need to be a given for MSU to win this game.

It's a cliché, but very much true in this instance: An MSU win tomorrow night will take a true team effort--a cohesive defensive effort to shut down three different dangerous scorers and a collective decisiveness on offense to use Purdue's defensive hawkishness against them to create easy baskets.  I expect the crowd (which will include this blogger) to rally around the team.  Whether that's a significant factor against a team with a lineup as experienced as Purdue's is an open question.

To conclude, my fear/paranoia level (copyright: MGoBlog) is at a solid 9: Baseline 5, +1 for adrenaline will only keep Kalin Lucas on the court for so long, -1 for Draymond Green's willpower knows no bounds, +1 for even Tom Izzo can't gameplan for three reliable scorers, -1 for positive karma from a white-out crowd in the midst of white-out weather, +1 for Raymar Morgan doesn't score much against teams with shot-blockers, +1 for 25%-plus turnover percentage seems inevitable, +1 for Korie Lucious' confidence has to be completely shot so 30 or 35% is probably a better bet, +1 for, even if we keep it close, how do we pull out the win at the end without a healthy Lucas?

(Oh, and "Desperate need to win level" is right up there, too, given Wisconsin's no-more-games-against-title-contenders schedule and the fact I'm going to have to write a second Purdue game preview in just a few weeks.)

Alright, talk me down off the hyper-analytical blogging ledge.