Originally written on The Detroit Sports Site  |  Last updated 9/19/14
The road was very unkind to the Michigan State Spartans early in the 2012-13 Big Ten season, as the Spartans wilted late in Williams Arena against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, dropping their first conference game of the year in tough fashion 76-63. Fortunately, there now exists a perfect opportunity to rebound, as the Purdue Boilermakers come to town, owners of an average 7-6 record. They did topple the highly ranked Illinois Fighting Illini at home in their Big Ten opener, however, lending a bit of intrigue to the Spartans’ first game in 2013. Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Cut down on the critical turnovers and value every possession. With a three point lead and the ball in the second half, Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, a player who has contributed plenty of game breaking plays in his career, made a mistake and quickly turned the ball over after a steal. Then, the Spartans had a 59-54 lead and Dawson missed a shot, Joe Coleman took the ball the other way and slammed it and Michigan State’s momentum was toast. To win in the Big Ten, the Spartans need to keep their composure and value every possession, especially those in the second half. They only turned the ball over 13 times against Minnesota, but wasted offensive series are often as bad as turnovers, and the Spartans endured plenty of those down the stretch in losing. Illinois only had nine turnovers and lost to Purdue, so execution will be critical as the Spartans return to the Breslin Center on Saturday. Purdue’s Key To Victory: Have Terone Johnson be Superman again as well as make plenty of three pointers. Michigan State, after losing a heartbreaker to Minnesota, should come out hot at home. Despite their very pedestrian record thus far this year, the Boilermakers should have Michigan State’s full attention, being they burst the bubble of the Fighting Illini in their Big Ten opener. Knowing this, Purdue is going to have to find the same recipe for success that worked against Illinois, namely having Johnson go crazy again and be the go-to guy. Purdue also made 6-16 shots from three point land, showing the value of Michigan State playing tough perimeter defense on D.J. Byrd and the other Boilermaker shooters. If Johnson scores 25 points and gets a capable performance from his supporting cast, the Spartans will be in for another dogfight. Purdue doesn’t have great depth, so if Michigan State is able to lock down two of the Boilermakers’ best players, they should be alright to get their first Big Ten win. The X-Fators: Travis Trice and D.J. Byrd Facing Minnesota, Trice put up nine big points from the bench, knocking down three shots from three point land in four attempts. It’s early, but Trice is looking like a microwave type player for Michigan State off the bench. If he can come in and knock down some big threes, the Spartans’ offense will be able to survive more tough Big Ten battles than they lose. They’ll need him to continue his roll against the Boilermakers and remain a dangerous assassin from deep to extend the floor. Byrd, a nice combo forward who can also flash at guard, is probably the Boilermakers’ most consistent scoring threat. He’s averaging 9.8 points-per game this season, and scored 15 in a big win over Illinois. Purdue wins when Byrd creates and gets help from another member of his lineup. Conversely, as shown by an ugly loss to Eastern Michigan in which Byrd only scored two points, Purdue loses when he can’t get anything going. Michigan State must be careful to lock Byrd down and not allow him to go crazy, especially early in the game. Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 14, the rebound differential between Minnesota (38) and Michigan State (24) in the last game. It was the Spartans’ worst performance on the glass in recent memory, and Michigan State was pushed around by the Golden Gophers’ trio of big men all day long. Performances like that won’t make Tom Izzo happy, and won’t help the Spartans contend for a league title or Final Four. Purdue will give Michigan State a good test on Saturday, being they out-rebounded the Illini 38-31 in their victory. Michigan State needs to reassume dominance on the boards in a hurry against the Boilermakers and reclaim their tough identity in order to come out ahead. Intangibles: An early start. Last season, we watched Purdue crumble on the road against Michigan State thanks in part to a vicious snowstorm and an early noon start. Will the Boilermakers be more ready this time around, or will it be the Spartans who look ill-equipped to handle an early weekend game in January? Sometimes, the early starts work to your favor or hurt plenty. Most of the time, it all depends on having the proper mindset first and foremost. Prediction: Purdue isn’t as deep as they have been in recent years, and barring a few heroic performances (which, of course, are never out of the realm of possibility against Michigan State) they have plenty of trouble scoring the basketball consistently. Izzo has likely been preaching the rebounding and defense over and over again this week in practice (three straight days of war drills, anyone?) Expect Michigan State to look hungrier from start to finish, with much more bounce in their step and more focus. The road is shaping up to be a very tough place in the Big Ten this year, and the Boilermakers find that out early in East Lansing. Michigan State 71, Purdue 60
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