With Michigan State’s dreams of a Big Ten regular season title quickly evaporating amidst a recent disastrous downfall, the Spartans are looking to find the team’s mojo heading down the late-season stretch. MSU’s daunting home game against the league-leading Purdue Boilermakers is a formidable challenge, yet also offers a great opportunity to potentialy turn around the season with an emotional win.
When: Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, noon ET
Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Michigan
The state of the Purdue program
Matt Painter has been coaching Purdue since 2005, and over the course of the last 16-plus years, his university has grown accustomed to quite a few things. For most of his tenure (outside of a few down years in between), he will have his team in contention for Big Ten regular season titles, of which he has won three. He will recruit well in the Midwest, have his team play tough defense and surround dominant big men with a bevy of dangerous outside shooters. So far, so good. But unfortunately for the Boilermakers, Painter never really could deliver on the national stage, and more often than not, didn’t live up to high expectations in the NCAA Tournament.
Nonetheless, though, everything is right and fine with this program. The Boilermakers have a clear plan under Painter, they recruit to it, and more often than not are among the best 20 teams in America. There is a lot to be said about that, even if Painter has his clear shortcomings. But for as long as he will have his address in West Lafayette, the Boilers will continue being a program to be reckoned with, just like the team is proving this year.
How Purdue is doing this season
Purdue has been one of the best teams in the nation for basically the entire year, and the Boilermakers have proven themselves both out of conference and in the Big Ten. They beat two traditional powers in North Carolina and Villanova early in the season, and basically only have one bad loss, a surprising 24-point drubbing at Michigan, a couple of weeks ago. All of Purdue’s other losses have been close affairs against quality opponents, even if the road loss against Indiana does look worse every week. This might be Painter’s most talented team ever, even if you compare the Boilermakers to the squads that featured future pros like Robbie Hummel, Carsen Edwards or Caleb Swanigan. Purdue has shown balance, toughness and a clear cut identity, even if Painter has done quite a bit of shuffling around with his starting lineup.
Projected Starting Lineup
PG Eric Hunter (Sr., 6-4, 170 lbs, 5.6 points, 1.9 assists, 47.9% FG, 44.0% 3P FG)
SG Jaden Ivey (So, 6-4, 200 lbs, 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 46.3% FG, 36.9% 3P)
SF Sasha Stefanovic (Sr., 6-5, 200 lbs, 11.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 42.3% FG, 40.6% 3P)
PF Mason Gillis (So., 6-6, 230 lbs, 6.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 52.9% FG, 47.1% 3P)
C Zach Edey (So., 7-4, 285 lbs, 14.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 68.2% FG, 64.2% FT)
G Isaiah Thompson (Jr., 6-1, 160 lbs)
F Trevion Williams (Sr., 6-10, 265 lbs)
F Caleb Furst (Fr., 6-10, 215 lbs)
G Ethan Morton (So., 6-6, 215 lbs)
What to expect from Purdue
Whoever watched Purdue in recent years will have grown accustomed to a game plan that features heavy use of the post-up game surrounded by a bevy of dangerous outside shooters. This year’s team clearly fits into that mold as well, but has a lot more dimensions to throw at opponents. Starting center Zach Edey is the newest version of Purdue’s oversized post-up presence in the middle, standing all of 7-feet-4-inches tall and comparing well to guys like A.J. Hammons or Isaac Haas. Edey towers over his opponents and brings all the advantages to the table his immense size offers. He gets great position inside, is hardly affected by physical play and still is fairly nimble on his feet. He has solid touch, understands the game well and will fight hard for position that, once he gets it, will certainly result in a bucket or a foul more often than not. On top of all of that, he is a solid passer as well.
When Edey sits on the bench, the Boilermakers can roll in a completely different, yet maybe even more daunting, post presence in Trevion Williams. The once chubby power player has transformed his body into a strong frame, is dangerously bouncy for a man his size and, in addition to that, offers a game that would make every 1990s post-play coach jump for joy. Williams is tremendous on the right block, has elite vision and can finish over each shoulder. His feel for the post and what happens around him is hard to find these days. He also is an elite rebounder, an emotional leader and a guy who can key Purdue runs in a matter of moments. He even has improved his outside shot, knocking down five of his 11 three-point attempts this year, while showing a sure-hand from midrange as well.
You can hardly limit Purdue to the team’s big men or the dangerous spot-up shooters the Boilermakers always surround them with. Combo guard Jaden Ivey supports the Boilers‘ inside game with elite athleticism, next level explosiveness and a creativity that is among the best in the Big Ten. His first step makes him look like he’s shot out of cannon, and he can get by defenders almost at will. At times, Ivey is also a ferocious top of the key defender, and he also is the catalyst to Purdue’s transition game, which the Boilermakers don’t use often, but can be very effective at running. Ivey isn’t the greatest shooter and likes to favor his right hand, yet after improving in both areas since his freshman year, he can hardly be left alone on the perimeter.
Purdue complements its top-three players with a well-rounded group of role players (of which almost all shoot above 40 percent from deep), led by elite marksmen Sasha Stefanovic. He moves tirelessly off the ball and has an ultra quick release, which leads to great spacing for the inside game. Mason Gillis is a strong combo forward who won’t do much on his own, yet provides strong spot-up shooting, defense and finishing ability. Almost all of Purdue’s bench players shoot the ball well, and while the Boilermakers two point guards — Isaiah Thompson and Eric Hunter — aren’t difference-makers, they still tend to do their job and will punish mistakes if left open.
This group is currently running the top-ranked offense in America, according to Kenpom.com, and no other team in the NCAA shoots better than the Boilers from behind the arc. The key lies in Purdue’s extremely sophisticated post-up game which is constantly featured with either Edey or Williams on the floor. Due to longer breaks (both only play around 20 minutes per game), they stay fresh and are extremely aggressive out on the court. Purdue will tirelessly probe the defense with a four-out look, and it is almost impossible to really stand you ground without doubling against them. It gets especially hard when you consider that Purdue also makes a defense move with using heavy off-ball screen action, high-level passing or Ivey’s strong penetration skills. On top of all that, the Boilermakers are tremendous at drawing fouls, especially Edey and Ivey.
Where there might be a chink in Purdue’s armor, outside of spotty free-throw shooting at times, it is on the defensive end where the Boilers only rank 114th in Kenpom’s metrics (Purdue currently ranks 13th overall in adjusted efficiency). The gigantic Edey can be fairly stiff on ball screen situations, and basically has to defend every pick and roll via drop coverage, leaving himself vulnerable to spot-up shots or out of position. Oftentimes, his foot speed isn’t good enough to recover once the Purdue defense has gotten moving. Purdue will play a very aggressive man-to-man style defense and also will double heavily in the corners. If the pass comes out quickly enough, there is a big chance to exploit that, and if not, it can produce tremendous problems for an offense. There isn’t much rim protection and you can hurt Purdue on the offensive glass a bit, even if the Boilermakers are a very strong rebounding team overall.
Key matchup: Max Christie vs Jaden Ivey
Zach Edey and Trevion Williams most likely will do their fair share of damage inside, as Michigan State — outside of probably Marcus BinghamJr. — doesn’t have nearly enough resistance to throw at them. Yet the guy who usually takes Purdue to the next level is Ivey with his penetration and his playmaking ability. If he can run wild it becomes extremely tough to beat the Boilers. Max Christie has been in a shooting slump of late, yet he could make up for all of it if he again proves how much potential he has on the defensive side of the ball. If Michigan State wants to make any noise this season, then Christie has to play better, and this Saturday would be a great start.