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Michigan State vs. Purdue Basketball Preview

SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012, 12:00 PM EST
ONLINE RADIO FEED: Spartan Sports Network

Purdue is coming into Breslin unranked but with a very respectable 14-5 record. Neither team is recognizable from the squads that lost to each other by 20 and 18 in the curious 1-1 split of the last two meetings. With the loss of Jajuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, there was concern among Boilermaker fans that Purdue could be set for a rebuilding year in a strong Big Ten. Instead, they resemble their conference mates closely. They’ve held serve in most of their "should-wins" only to suffer a few bad losses. All this leaves them packed in the four team 4-2 squish behind the 5-2 Wolverines in the Big Ten standings.

The good news for MSU is that Purdue has struggled both against ranked opponents and away from home. In the non-conference season, they lost in Puerto Rico to Alabama, also @Xavier, and lost 67-65 to Butler in Indy. During conference play, Matt Painter's team hit their low point with a 20-point loss on the road at Penn State on January 5th. With the Nittany Lions getting a huge home win against Illinois on Thursday and the familiar difficulty of winning any Big Ten road game (hello, #9 MSU, #20 UM, #6 OSU, and #11 Indiana), that defeat probably doesn’t look as disastrous when reflecting.

That said, even some of Purdue’s victories have given fans cause for concern. Earlier this season, they defeated Western Carolina, High Point, and Iona by a total of only 8 points. More recently, the Boilermakers did get road wins at Minnesota and Purdue before getting their best victory of the season by topping Illinois 75-60 in Mackey.

More after the jump...

It seems Robbie Hummel has been at Purdue long enough to have played with Rick Mount. His stats this year have been very much in the ballpark of his junior campaign of 1967-1968 2009-2010 and he leads his team in scoring, minutes, rebounds, and blocks. Hummel has been in double figures for every game but one (5pts in the 75-60 victory over Illinois. Huh.). The super-senior is still central to his team’s success and once again Hummel vs. Green will be a key one-on-one that will decide this game. Though they may not square off on every possession, I would expect that they’ll see a lot of each other.

One of the greatest challenges to Purdue is to stay aggressive. In their best performances, their guards have attacked the basket and kept the team from relying too much on perimeter scoring. The trio of Lewis Jackson, Kelsey Barlow, and D.J. Byrd have been solid but maybe not spectacular in their careers thus far, though Byrd has improved his long-distance shooting this year while Jackson and Barlow both hit under 30%. The guards are assisted in that department by senior Ryne Smith, who is having the best campaign of his Purdue career with over 10pts/game and 53-117 (.453) from behind the arc.

Purdue also has to attack the glass and get their post players going. Robbie Hummel is still playing a lot of 4 for Purdue and though 6’9" sophomore Travis Carroll is a starter, he doesn’t rank in the top five in mpg. Aside from Hummel, the 6'9" Danville, IN forward is Purdue’s primary post option and he can sometimes be a barometer for the team’s success as a whole. He turned in a solid performance in the their last match-up against Iowa and could be this game’s Davide Curletti. The rest of Purdue’s frontline is young. Sophomore Sandi Marcius has seen his minutes plummet since the Big Ten season started but at 6’9", 260, he gives the Boilermakers some of their best size to counter MSU. Jacob Lawson is a tall freshman getting 14 minutes a game but not doing a lot on the statsheet. Like in their previous two contests (losses), MSU should have an advantage in the post with Nix and Payne. However, if the Spartans struggle, you could see MSU go small again with Thornton or Dawson getting some minutes playing power forward.

To me, that’s really the story of this game – can MSU impose their style of play on Purdue, most importantly by dominating with size in the post? If MSU is unable to do that, they may find themselves having to play Purdue’s game and open the door to suffer a home upset. This is a prime opportunity to right the ship, protect homecourt, and let struggling MSU players like Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, and Branden Dawson get their groove back. Definitely watch Branden Dawson. By all reports, he was a whisker away from choosing a destiny at Purdue and a confidence-building performance tomorrow might help ease the anxiety of the trip to an assuredly hostile Mackey Arena in mid-February.

Go Green!