Happy Saturday Spartans. We are exactly halfway through our Big Ten slate and we currently sit in fourth place in the conference. At 14-7 overall and with a few wins over teams that were ranked at the time, not to mention the one-point losses to Gonzaga and Purdue, this team has a resume strong enough to get into the tournament. But tomorrow, in West Lafayette, Indiana, MSU has its last best chance to put up a highlight victory and solidify its tourney resume. Twelve days ago, the Boilermakers came to East Lansing and stole a victory from us. Can MSU repay the favor? We spoke to Andrew Ledman of Hammer And Rails (Hammer and Rails, a Purdue Boilermakers community) to get an in-depth look at tomorrow’s opponent.
The Only Colors: You are 19-1 and ranked #1 in the country. Your only loss was a one-point loss to a good Rutgers team that either team could have won. How surprised are you by your season thus far?
Andrew Ledman: I’m incredibly surprised. When you look at what Purdue lost off last season (Trevion Williams, Jaden Ivey, Isaiah Thompson, and Eric Hunter Jr.), to think that we would have a better record and hold the #1 ranking for longer than we did the prior season is unthinkable to me. We spoke about this on our site and viewed this as a rebuilding year, and we were hoping for a top-4 Big Ten finish and hoping, as a ceiling, the Sweet 16.
TOC: You currently have a 2.5 game lead in the B1G with 10 games remaining, none against a currently-ranked team. Your toughest game left perhaps is @ Indiana. What is the expectation among Purdue fans right now for the rest of the season?
AL: If we don’t win the Big Ten, every Purdue fan would be horribly disappointed. Purdue fans, we take a lot of pride in the fact that we have the most B1G championships and this would be the 25th for Purdue. It would obviously mean a lot to this team and to the program. As far as the tournament, our expectations at best were Sweet 16 coming into the year. Now I think most people look at that as the worst. That’s got to be the floor now. We’ve got to get to the Sweet 16, and obviously we want more than that. We want to get into the Final 4, the title game, win the whole thing. I think for most people if we didn’t get to the Sweet 16, they would be horribly disappointed.
TOC: Less than 2 weeks ago, Purdue went to East Lansing and escaped with a one-point win off a late Edey bucket. Did Purdue have a bad game that day? Or did MSU discover a formula to beating the Boilermakers? If so, what is that formula?
AL: I think a key part of the formula is figuring out how to slow down Zach Edey. Not many teams have someone who can physically match up with him at 7’4”. But just being able to slow him down and force Purdue’s guards to hit shots is probably the best way to do it. But even then, Purdue has guys who can hit shots. It’s just a matter of whether they are on that night or if Purdue has a bad game. That can be the game right there. We’ve seen games where Purdue doesn’t shoot particularly well, but Zach Edey kind of wills them to a victory, and if you shut Edey down, you make the degree of difficulty for Purdue a little higher. Michigan State had a good game so no taking anything away from them. But I do expect Purdue to play a little better now that the game is at home.
TOC: You have a couple of freshmen starting in your backcourt in Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer. What has impressed you most about these two? What has allowed them to be so good so early?
AL: Honestly, everything about them has impressed me. It has been absolutely incredible to see 2 freshmen play like this on a Big Ten team, the leading team in the Big Ten, the #1 ranked team in the nation. And they are just so poised. Nothing seems to rattle them. Having a bad game doesn’t seem to carry over. Fletcher Loyer had a bad half against Penn State and he got benched coming into the second half and he came back and just blew it away. It’s that ability to shake things off and know that their teammates have trust in them that has really set them head and shoulders above what I think most freshmen really do in the Big Ten. It’s just such a meat grinder and they have just done such a good job.
TOC: Let’s talk about your star for a minute. Zach Edey. Is he the best player in the country? Is he going pro after this year or will he stick around for his senior season? What is his biggest weakness that opponents can try to expose?
AL: Yes, he is the best player in the nation. I think that is really not in dispute. He’s averaging over 20 points, 13 rebounds at this point. I know player of the year is not just based on stats. It’s based on how they play in big games, who they face. Edey has gone up against bigs from Duke, bigs from Gonzaga, Dickinson from Michigan, and he’s played well against every single one of them. He has not faded from the spotlight. He has truly looked like the best player in every game he has played this season. As far as will he come back next year, I don’t know. The problem for him is his game doesn’t necessarily translate to the NBA the way it’s played now. He can certainly go overseas and make a ton of money and he may be able to stick around the NBA for a few years. But the NBA doesn’t really have a place for guys like him very often anymore. I know there is NIL money coming his way, I don’t know how much it is, but if they could continue to shovel NIL money his way, he seems to be having the time of his life. His mom follows the team around and goes to all the games. They seem to have a great relationship. It would be very hard to turn down being a king on a university campus and just have everyone love you for one more year, because you will never get that opportunity again. I’m not holding my breath that he comes back, but that would be the situation where I could see him coming back.
As far as a flaw in his game, it used to be his left hand. But he’s really improved that in the offseason, so he looks a little better now so teams can’t really force him to use his left like they could in years past. I don’t think he has a glaring obvious flaw. He can run into some trouble where he has some bad passes if he’s double- or triple-teamed, but even that he’s improved upon throughout the season. I don’t think there’s an obvious flaw, especially when you look on defense, he commits so few fouls, which I know is a sticking point for you all at The Only Colors. (Writer’s note: We shared a laugh here.) He has really improved on both ends of the floor and he’s just been incredible. We can’t say enough about him.
TOC: Bonus question: What is your prediction for tomorrow?
AL: I think Purdue wins by 5. And I think it’s going to be another close game. Michigan State, even when they are not a top-15, top-10 team, Izzo is still a really great coach. Even though I think he’s a lot more cantankerous than he used to be, he still knows more about basketball than 99.9% of the population. So you can never really take it easy against an Izzo-coached team. But I think Purdue is just playing really well right now and I think they can pull out a victory, especially at home. New jerseys. Paint crew should be in attendance. It’ll be loud. So it’s going to be a pretty exciting game. I’ll go 71-66.
TOC would like to thank Andrew Ledman for his contribution to this article. We heard his opinion. Now let’s hear what you think.
Who will win Sunday’s game?
This poll is closed
Can MSU hold Zach Edey under 25 points? (He had 32 in the last matchup.)
This poll is closed