Following two come from behind performances at home which has inexplicably left the Michigan State Spartans tied for first in the Big Ten standings, now, the team must hit the road again for a weekend trip to West Lafayette, Indiana. Such voyages are always a severe test for the visitors, and despite the Purdue Boilermakers’ pedestrian record, this year’s game should prove no different.
The Boilermakers knocked off Illinois earlier this season at home, and given the personal feud between Matt Painter, his team and two Spartans from the state of Indiana in Branden Dawson and Gary Harris which spurned his program to come to East Lansing, there will be no letting up from the opposition, no matter how many obstacles they may face. Spartan Jump Shots is ready for a tough and boisterous road contest that’s taken on a personal tone in recent years.
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Tighter interior defense.
Early on against Minnesota, the Spartans weren’t playing well enough offensively to win. Defensively, they were leaving much to be desired as well, letting Trevor Mbakwe roam free on the boards. Early in January, the Boilermakers got off to a fast start in East Lansing and kept things close, largely because Michigan State’s defense wasn’t engaged early from the middle on out. As the second half wore on, the Spartans eventually wore the Boilermakers down with an impressive 28-7 run, forged largely upon a tighter interior defense. A.J. Hammonds can’t score 20 points again in the middle and get to the line 10 times. This time around, Michigan State has to choke that out from the get-go.
Purdue’s Key To Victory: Stop both Dawson and Harris.
In the first meeting, Dawson scored 14 while collecting 11 rebounds and Harris went off for 22 points. Last year at Purdue, Dawson went for 15 and 11, which was a similarly steady effort. He seems to elevate his game against the Boilermakers, and now, perhaps he has a running mate in that department with the dynamic Harris. In order to win, Purdue must stop the duo from their home state almost completely. Allowing Dawson and Harris to have a huge impact only opens things up for Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix to have decent performances and get away with it. If Dawson and Harris are rattled, Michigan State
The X-Factors: Denzel Valentine and Donnie Hale.
In the absence of the injured Travis Trice, Valentine played the sixth man role well on Wednsday night, scoring eight point and knocking down a few important three point baskets which helped keep his team in the game. While Trice might eventually get back into the rotation, it is critical for Valentine to make the most of his playing time. If he’s able to follow his performance against Minnesota up with another solid act, confidence and trust should begin to build at just the right time of the year.
The Boilermakers will need a big bench performance out of Hale if they’re to survive the likes of Nix, Payne and Dawson down low. In January, Hale contributed six rebounds and two offensive boards to a losing cause. If he’s able to do this again while scoring more than two points, Painter will likely be thrilled. Getting good minutes for the freshman as a running mate for Hammonds could prove big down the stretch if the game is close and attrition of big men due to fouls occurs.
Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 16 and 21, the gaudy number of assists Michigan State has enjoyed in their last two meetings with Purdue, the first number coming in last February’s big road win and the second from the Spartans’ blowout victory in January. If Michigan State is able to share the ball like that again and get quality looks, this contest will likely be another blowout like the other two. Purdue has to do a better job of getting in passing lanes, forcing the Spartans to turn the ball over and operate an inefficient offense. The more hands Michigan State gets on the ball, the more likely it is they will be scoring more than 70 points. That’s something they’ve done easily in their last four meetings with Purdue.
Intangibles: Matt Painter and Boilermaker’s bitterness.
It seems that some at Purdue as well as Painter just can’t let things go. Dawson and Harris, both top players from Indiana, chose to attend Michigan State instead of Purdue. Still, you see the outcry from the fans who booed Dawson and taunted him at last year’s game in Mackey Arena. Harris was jeered while playing the Hoosiers in Bloomington, so you can expect him to hear it from the Purdue crowd as well. As juvenile as this may be, it still serves as a great motivating factor. The Boilermakers will certainly come to play on Saturday night no matter their record. If Michigan State isn’t ready, they could get themselves in trouble in the midst of a riled up crowd, bent on wanting some small measure of revenge no matter how petty.
Prediction: This game couldn’t come at a worse time for Michigan State. Wednesday, the Spartans had to survive a tough game with Minnesota. Tuesday, a giant contest looms with Michigan which could determine who eventually wins the Big Ten. Thus, the conditions for a trap game are optimal. Purdue always plays tough at home, and despite their lack of playmakers and game changers from years past, the Boilermakers still have enough bodies to make this game tough on the Spartans. Michigan State gets the job done thanks to Dawson and Harris again, who play inspired and take the jeers personal. The Spartans escape West Lafayette with a scare, but do their part to set up a showdown next week.
Michigan State 65, Purdue 61
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax