Ranked Big Ten Conference rivals meet inside Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana tonight, as No. 17 Michigan State comes calling on No. 14 Purdue.
Michigan State is hoping to bounce back from a recent loss at another ranked conference foe in Illinois (71-62), and win for the third time in the last four games overall. The Spartans, who are 12-6 on the year, own a 4-2 league ledger, and if they are going to continue their climb up the conference ladder they are going to have to start winning on the road where they are just 1-3 thus far.
Purdue is 16-3 this year and has won five of its six Big Ten bouts to date, putting it in second place in the conference behind top-ranked and undefeated Ohio State. The Boilermakers were most recently in action against a surprising Penn State squad at home, and they needed every ounce of energy, and a little luck, to keep from becoming the Nittany Lions' most recent victim in what turned out to be a 63-62 win for Purdue. The win snapped a brief two-game slide by coach Matt Painter's club, which had dropped narrow decisions to Minnesota (70-67) and West Virginia (68-64), both on the road, prior to the Penn State game.
Purdue leads the all-time series with Michigan State by a 63-45 margin, and the Boilermakers have won four of the last seven matchups.
Under the direction of standout coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans have underachieved this season as wins against comparable opponents have been few and far between to this point. MSU had a chance to make a statement in its recent clash with Illinois, but the Fighting Illini had other plans as they took the nine-point decision in front of a happy hometown crowd. Kalin Lucas, the preseason pick to nab Big Ten Player of the Year honors, scored 15 points and Durrell Summers added 13, but the Spartans shot just 37.5 percent from the field and made good on only 7- of-26 three-point tries (.269). The Illini, on the other hand, drained 53.2 percent of their total shots and outscored MSU both in bench points (34-22) and off turnovers (15-5). Lucas (14.7 ppg, 3.6 apg), Summers (14.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Draymond Green (12.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg) are all averaging double figures in the scoring column for Michigan State, which is producing 72.4 ppg on 44.3 percent field goal accuracy and 37.2 percent from beyond the arc. Defensively, the Spartans are allowing 65.9 ppg and foes are shooting just 40.2 percent from the floor.
Purdue possesses arguably the top duo in all of college basketball, as JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore both have the skills to take over a game at any time. Johnson, who has scored a total of 80 points in the last three games, leads the team in scoring (20.5 ppg), rebounding (8.1 rpg) and blocked shots (43), and he is a 50.4 percent shooter who also happens to convert just shy of 80 percent of his free throws. As for Moore, his 43.8 percent overall shooting effort could stand some improvement, but he drops 39.4 percent of his three- point tries in netting 17.6 ppg. Add 5.8 boards and 3.4 assists per game to his stat line and Moore is as solid a backcourt performer as there is nationally. Johnson scored 25 points and Moore added 16 of his own to power Purdue past Penn State on Wednesday night. The Boilermakers won the game despite being outrebounded (30-19) and outshot (.522 to .444). The fact that Painter's club committed just three turnovers certainly played an integral part in keeping them in the game, and ultimately giving them a chance to pull out the one-point victory.
This one has all the makings of a classic, as the Spartans probably have the better all-around team, while the Boilermakers boast the best one-two punch in the Big Ten. Add the homecourt advantage to the mix and Purdue wins a close one.