Well, here we are. A mid-week home game against Purdue that might have major implications for the NCAA Tournament hopes of both teams. If you'd told me that this was the situation at the beginning of the season, I might have taken it. Then again, I'm a hopeless idealist, so I probably wouldn't have. I digress.
Purdue is a team that has been leaps and bounds better than I expected. Before the season I recorded a podcast with Alex Cook of MGoBlog where I wondered how long Matt Painter might keep his job, and he responded by improving his team on both sides of the ball. They're up to 60th and 66th in offensive and defensive efficiency nationally, from 122nd and 100th in 2013-14.
Part of that has been the improvement of AJ Hammons, who is using more possessions more efficiently. Part of that is 7-2 frosh Isaac Haas, an Ivan Drago lookalike that has used 30.7 (!) percent of possessions while he's on the floor in Big Ten play. Guard Kendall Stephens has stepped into a larger role effectively, and Rapheal Davis, Jon Octeus, and Vince Edwards form a high-efficiency role player trio. Those six guys all average between 8.2 and 11.4 points per game.
When Michigan State is on Offense
The length of Purdue is a real problem for their opponents, and an undersized MSU team will likely be no different. Purdue does two things well defensively: first, they limit opponents to an eFG percentage of 45.4 (41st in the country) and second, they block 14.2 percent of shot attempts (22nd in the country). I think these two things are related to their +3.5 effective height, good for 19th in the country.
This is going to be an issue. Unless MSU can force turnovers and get out in transition, the half-court offense may end up being a slog. MSU appears to have improved in this area (per my eyes, at least) but I doubt that isolation plays in the post will be very effective. We saw this at times against Wisconsin as well, where Branden Dawson and Gavin Schilling were ineffective. Here's to hoping for a good spot-up shooting night.
Purdue won't turn teams over and tends to foul a lot (Haas with 6.0 fouls per 40, Hammons with 4.4) so there are some opportunities to make up for a poor shooting night. The distribution ability of Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine (who snuck in a 10-5-6 against Wisconsin with no turnovers) will be a major focal point.
When Purdue is on Offense
The obvious matchup here is Mavin Costelling against IsaAj Haasons. The dual-headed center monsters have very different roles, but Isaaj Haasons will absolutely being seeing post touches, and both Haas and Hammons are effective in getting to the line; Haas has attempted more free throws than field goals in Big Ten play, while Hammons draws 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes. This could, maybe, be an issue for the foul-prone Schilling and Costello.
Ultimately, I think Costello and Schilling will be OK in this matchup, however. I think Izzo's typical non-double policy will be amended slightly so that there's some collapsing help. Neither Haas nor Hammons is a particularly adept passer, and Purdue doesn't have a ton of deep gunners (nobody averages 40%+ from deep). If Haas and Hammons can be forced to turn it over, that will also benefit the MSU offense. Here's to hoping, anyway.
The other interesting battle here is on the boards, where Purdue ranks first in conference play in offensive rebounding percentage(though just 11th defensively). #WarDrillU can rebound the ball some, too (12th in the nation in DREB%) but in any case, this will be a major battle. It could be a long day if Purdue rebounds their misses well.
This MSU team specializes in getting good shots when those shots aren't Branden Dawson fall-away jumpers. It has to, because there's no one transcendent talent that can go get a bucket on their own. The trick here is that those Dawson jumpers are good shots against Purdue. I can't explain it, it's just science. The Dawson vs. Purdue thing will likely be helpful on the defensive boards as well.
Matt mentioned this in his power rankings yesterday, but since the 20 point beatdown of Indiana, the home B1G schedule has gone like this: W in OT, W by 6, W in OT, W by 3, L in OT. That's a pretty tight home slate in conference play.
It feels like it's time for a home blowout. On senior day. For Branden and Travis and Keenan.
Oh, and also Craig went to Purdue. And Craig is the worst:
MSU 81 - Purdue 67