Michigan State will host the king of the Big Ten conference, No. 3 Purdue, for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee.
The Boilermakers cap off what’s been a tough stretch for the Spartans. MSU is heading into Monday’s matchup having played in arguably two of the toughest environments in the Big Ten, Madison, Wisconsin and Champaign, Illinois.
After putting together a gritty 69-65 win in the waning minutes against Wisconsin, MSU collapsed in the final stretch in what amounted to a 76-66 loss to Illinois.
Michigan State’s loss to the Fighting Illini was a strange one. The Spartans outrebounded their opponents 42-30, kept turnovers in single-digits, had three starters hit double-digits and led the game for large portions of the second half. However, they failed to notch a single three against Illinois - not exactly a winning recipe in modern college basketball.
Junior guard A.J. Hoggard has stayed hot despite the stiff competition, notching 10 points and eight assists against Wisconsin and scoring 20 points against the Fighting Illini. He’s reached double digits in three straight games.
MSU’s starting point guard showing up in big spots isn’t exactly surprising, considering the level Hoggard has been playing at this year. However, what has been surprising of late is the play of freshman center Carson Cooper. While he barely showed up on the stat sheet (two rebounds, two blocks and a steal), Cooper played 12 minutes against Wisconsin, which is the most minutes he’s played since Thanksgiving. With his youth and inexperience in mind, he didn’t look too out of place against the Badgers.
“Considering it was the first of any extended period of time, I thought he did a good job against that team,” Izzo said in practice after the win against Wisconsin. “What he can do against another one is yet to be seen.”
Well, just a few days later, Copper had another surprise performance. The freshman big showed a bit of his offensive toolkit against Illinois, scoring six points, four rebounds and a block in 12 minutes. Again, that’s not a stat line that wows, but considering the circumstances, Cooper’s recent stretch of solid play has been a welcome surprise. It’s another piece that Izzo can just slot into the rotation, if need be.
Scouting the opponent
Sitting atop the Big Ten standings, Purdue is currently the team to beat in the conference. The Boilermakers are 16-1, with wins over the likes of Gonzaga and Duke. Their sole loss came against Rutgers earlier this month.
Glancing at the conference stat sheet, it’s not shocking that Purdue has just one loss on the year. The Boilermakers are well-rounded, sporting a solid defense (opponents average 61.1 points per game, good for third in the Big Ten) and a strong offense (75.8 average points per game, which ranks fifth in the conference).
One of Purdue’s greatest strengths this season has been on the glass. The Boilermakers lead the nation in rebound margin, outrebounding opponents by an average of 12 boards per game.
Standing at a towering 7 foot 4 inches, junior center Zach Edey has been one of the best bigs in the nation and a key piece of Purdue’s hot start. He leads all of college basketball in rebounds per game (13.2) and leads the Big Ten field goal percentage (.629). In the conference, he’s second only to Iowa’s Kris Murray in points per game (21.3). When MSU and Purdue met in the regular season last year, Edey notched 25 points against the Spartans. In short, Edey has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in the paint, and Michigan State is sure to have trouble controlling one of the strongest players in college basketball.
Behind Edey in average points per game is a somewhat familiar face for MSU fans, freshman guard Fletcher Loyer. Brother to former Spartan Foster Loyer, the freshman has been electric for the Boilermakers this season, averaging 13.2 points per game. In Purdue’s win over Nebraska on Friday, Loyer scored a season-high 27 points, netting six threes in the process.
Tipoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. and will be televised on Fox.