Preview: Men's hoops aims to boost Big Ten title chances against Purdue
When: Saturday at 4 p.m.
Where: Breslin Center
TV/Radio: ESPN/ 94.9 WMMQ-FM (Lansing)
Line: MSU -3
The men’s basketball team will face what is likely its biggest test all season on Saturday.
No. 4 MSU (23-3, 11-2) has not played a team as formidable as No. 3 Purdue (23-3, 12-1). The Spartans have been in a couple of top-5 matchups against then-No. 1 Duke back on Nov. 14 at the Champions Classic, and against then-No. 5 Notre Dame on Nov. 30 at Breslin.
But since then the Blue Devils have lost four games and dropped to the No. 9 team in the country, and the Fighting Irish have had a complete collapse, falling all the way to 14-10.
The high-profile matchup with Purdue will be different. The Boilermakers will enter Saturday’s contest winners of 19 of their last 20 games.
The Boilermakers had been undefeated in conference play and owned sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the Big Ten up until they lost by one point at home to No. 14 Ohio state Wednesday night. They now share that ranking with the Buckeyes, with MSU a game behind in second place.
Despite the loss to Ohio State, Purdue remains in good position to win the conference title and even get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But if the Spartans were to top the Boilermakers, they could very well be catapulted into that discussion.
After practice on Thursday, head coach Tom Izzo said while it’s important for the team to control its own destiny, he is fully aware of the team's heightened conference title chances after Purdue’s recent loss.
“We needed the door open,” Izzo said. “I never pull for a team to win or lose, we’ve got to win it our own way, but you do need some breaks along the way.”
Both clubs haven’t been playing their best basketball as of late, despite their stellar records. The Boilermakers have shot below their season average on field goals in their last four outings. The Spartans gave up 93 points to an Iowa team Tuesday that came into the game with 13 losses on the year and allowed the Hawkeyes to shoot better than 52 percent from the field.
Despite their recent struggles, both teams have proven to be part of the upper echelon of not only the Big Ten, but the entire league, evident by their consistent play throughout the season.
Purdue is led by 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Carsen Edwards, who leads the Boilermakers in scoring at 17 points per game and makes 40.2 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Not to be outdone by his backcourt mate, senior two-guard Dakota Mathias shoots 46.6 percent from 3-point territory while pouring just more than 12 points per contest.
Edwards scored 28 points on 13 shots against the Buckeyes, and connected on four of his seven 3-point attempts. Sophomore point guard Cassius Winston, who Izzo said has made strides in improving his defense this season, will likely see a lot of Edwards on Saturday.
“He likes to make quick movements, quick changes to get his shot off. He comes off a lot of down-screens hard, you’ve got to be on his footsteps at all times," Winston said. "You just can’t let him get comfortable, if you let him get comfortable then he’s going to be hard to guard."
The Boilermakers average 84 points per game, shoot 50 percent from the floor and connect on 42.7 percent of their 3-point attempts, which is good for third in the country. Purdue also holds its opponents to 64.2 points per game and a 39.8 overall shooting percentage.
MSU is led by sophomore forward Miles Bridges, who averages a team-best 17.7 points, puts up 83.7 points per contest, shoots 41.6 percent from behind the 3-point line and boasts the second-best field goal percentage in the nation at 51.8 percent.
Purdue has won three of the last four meetings with the Spartans dating back to 2015. Prior to that, MSU had won seven straight against the Boilermakers.
Michael Duke: Purdue 67 MSU 63
Casey Harrison: Purdue 85 MSU 76