vs. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Breslin Student Events Center, East Lansing, MI
Tip-off: Saturday, 4:00 pm ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
The Big Ten game of the year takes place Saturday in East Lansing.
In a down year for the Big Ten, the Purdue Boilermakers have had one game circled on their calendar all season: February 10th at Michigan State. While Ohio State has surprised as a top-15 team, Purdue and MSU have established themselves as the class of the conference and top-five teams nationally. After hosting OSU on Thursday and playing in East Lansing on Saturday, the Boilermakers close the regular season with games against Wisconsin, Penn State, Illinois and Minnesota, so this week will feature their last prominent opponents before B1G tournament play. The Spartans traveled to Iowa on Tuesday night, and after Saturday will face a similarly light schedule down the stretch of the regular season as Purdue does. Heading into their midweek matchups, the Spartans had won six straight games and the Boilermakers were sustaining a program record and nation-best 19-game winning streak. These teams last met a year ago in West Lafayette, when Purdue won 80-63 and covered a 9.5-point spread.
An experienced Boilermakers lineup is led by a sophomore on offense, as G Carsen Edwards shoots and scores the most. He made an instant impact as a freshman last season, but has increased his shooting percentages dramatically this year to become one of the deadliest scorers in the conference. The emotional leader of the team, however, is senior F Vince Edwards. At 6-8, Vince is both a marksman from three-point range and an excellent rebounder. He's been a key component of the team since his first year, but has broken out this season into a full-fledged star by stepping up his scoring and, especially, his rebounding. He helped Purdue stave off an upset at Rutgers last weekend with 18 points, eight boards and seven assists. The Boilermakers lost All-American big man Caleb Swanigan to the NBA from last season's team, but there's still a mammoth in the middle in 7-2 C Isaac Haas. He's not a dominant force, but has a surprisingly soft touch around the rim and is a deterrent for would-be slashers when he's clogging the lane on defense. G Dakota Mathias is an absolute sniper at over 45% from deep, and he leads the team in assists, as well. Senior G P.J. Thompson is the unsung hero of the starting lineup, but his play was also essential in holding off Rutgers. He figures to be an x-factor going forward.
The Michigan State Spartans feature multiple players that could be lottery choices in the upcoming NBA Draft, and the buzziest is C Jaren Jackson. Jackson can do it all—he's big enough to protect the rim and bang inside, but can also shoot threes and is mobile enough to defend on the perimeter, as well. It says something about the Spartans' talent level that Jackson is only fifth on the team in per-game scoring and third in rebounding (although some would suggest it says more about how he is underutilized in the offense. The leader in scoring is bulky G Miles Bridges, the other premier prospect on the team. He's a fairly efficient scorer, a feisty rebounder and a 90% free throw shooter, suggesting he has room to further improve his already-good (if overused) jumper. He only scored seven points against Indiana this past Saturday, which is one reason Michigan State lost by five against the spread in a 63-60 win. Sophomore F Nick Ward is a beast in limited minutes, averaging over 13 PPG and leading the team in rebounding despite playing about 20 minutes per game. But headed into the Iowa game, he had scored fewer than 13 points in five straight games. MSU needs him at his best to match Purdue's firepower. Sophomore Gs Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston round out the starting lineup, and each averages in the double-digits in scoring. This is a young team—Bridges is a sophomore, too—and will need multiple guys to step up as leaders if they want to compete with elite teams like Purdue as the conference and national tournaments approach.