Just a few years ago, MSU-Purdue was mini rivalry. The teams were both built on toughness and were competing for Big Ten championships.
But over the last two years, the Boilermakers have fallen back with the departure of the Baby Boilers, and the rivalry with MSU has turned to vitriol, mostly surrounding the recruiting of and taunting, dunking and not-punching by Branden Dawson.
It's really too bad. I consider Purdue fans to be among the smartest and most passionate in college basketball. There was a respect between the teams and the fanbases (and a shared hatred for the more-popular teams in the respective states). But that's gone out the window. The little controversies blow up into attacks on players (whether it's Purdue fans attacking Dawson online or the Izzone chanting at Robbie Hummel. Now, when Purdue loses by nearly 40 to Indiana, MSU fans don't feel as bad as they used to.
The Spartans will go for a season-sweep when they head to Mackey Arena to face the reeling Boilermakers on Saturday. In the previous meeting, the teams went toe-to-toe for much of the game, but a second-half run turned it into an 84-61 blowout for MSU that was closer than the score.
Following a loss to Ohio State, Purdue won four of five and an NIT berth seemed very possible. But since then, the Boilermakers have looked rough. A 37-point home loss to Indiana was followed by a loss at Northwestern and a narrow win at Penn State. An NIT berth is not looking very likely at this point, though they are No. 84 in KenPom.
But they'll certainly be fired up (as will their fans) with a top 10 team (and sort of rival) coming in to town.
Offensively, Purdue is No. 145 in adjO, but that's mostly due to offensive rebounding. They shoot 30.4 percent on 3s (No. 291) and 44.8 percent on 2s (No. 276). They do a decent job of holding onto the ball (18.7 percent), but the biggest thing is that offensive rebounding (37.8 percent, No. 26).
Terone Johnson leads the backcourt for Purdue (12.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists), but freshman center A.J. Hammons (11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds 2.1 blocks) is a star in the making. In the previous meeting, Hammons had 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting with seven rebounds and three blocks. However, that's when Adreian Payne was coming off the bench. Payne played 20 minutes and had three points and nine rebounds. I still think Hammons will be able to have his way with Derrick Nix a bit, but having Adreian Payne in more should help with that rebounding.
Purdue only grabbed 26 percent of its misses in the first meeting, and that will need to happen again, as Purdue tends to miss a lot of shots. D.J. Byrd (9.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists) is the three-point specialist, with 74 percent of his shots coming behind the arc, though he's shooting 35 percent from there.
It's Purdue, which means they still play good defense: No. 56 in adjD. Opponents shoot 32.2 percent on 3s (No. 101) and 42.1 percent on 2s (No. 26). The Spartans have shot better than 42 percent on 3s in the last four games, which has been a welcome sight. Still, MSU is shooting 33 percent in the last two first halves and 76 percent in the second halves. They can't afford another atrocious start. They would be better served taking the energy out of the opponent and the crowd from the beginning.
One thing Purdue doesn't do on defense is force turnovers (17.4 percent on the year, 14.4 percent in conference play). MSU is coming off its lowest turnover output of the season after an ugly job at Indiana and first half against Illinois. Opponents on the year grab just 29.8 percent of their misses (No. 89), but that has jumped up to 32.6 percent in Big Ten play.
Nine players play at least nine minutes, so Purdue will have the advantage in legs against the beat-up Spartans. That brings us to the injuries. Keith Appling reportedly is OK, but just sore with the shoulder. The status of Travis Trice remains up in the air, but I would be surprised if he plays. That means more Denzel Valentine ,who has played well in the last two games. Gary Harris still hurts everywhere, but should be good to go. Dawson tweaked his ankle against Minnesota, but also should be OK. Payne did not break his nose. My wife's hand is still broken. She will not be able to play.
Matt Costello, Alex Gauna and Russel Byrd will probably get a few shifts, and they'll have to make them count, as they did against the Gophers. Minnesota tried to use its depth to its advantage in the last game, but it didn't work.
The Boilermakers are reeling, and MSU should win this one, but the injuries do make me a bit worried, plus the possibility of looking ahead to the Michigan game.
KenPom predicts a 65-59 MSU win, giving the Spartans a 71 percent chance of winning. I don't know if this beat-up MSU team can win the Big Ten, but they've already stayed in the race longer than most figured. Let's hope that continues.