Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
This Big Ten battle pits two of the conference’s best against each other. Perhaps no team in the league had higher expectations than #21 Purdue (19-6, 8-4) coming into the season. While they haven’t disappointed, they are not a top 10 team by any means. It has been #5 Michigan State (20-4, 10-2) who has been the conference’s best team. Nearly every expert had these two teams atop the Big Ten come March. The Spartans have had a firm grasp on the number one spot for the whole conference season, but a win here miraculously gets the Boilers back within a game. Conversely, if Michigan State wins, Purdue is three games back with almost no shot at winning the regular season title. This isn’t a must win situation for either team, seeing as both are locks to the Tournament as of today, but a win would bolster Purdue’s Big Ten aspirations, while a W for MSU might be enough to chalk up the Big Ten title.
The visiting team has had tremendous success on the road this season; they have yet to lose on an opponent’s home court. Mackey Arena is not a fun place to play, but the Spartans road triumphs have got to look good. Perhaps even better is the news that Raymar Morgan will be returning to the lineup. Tom Izzo isn’t optimistic about the minutes he will be able to log, and is only hoping for 15-20. But after a three (six if you count when he was half strength) game hiatus from the sport, it has to be comforting to get Morgan back, especially with Wisconsin, Illinois and another Purdue game looming. Kalin Lucas, potential Big Ten Player of the Year, leads the Spartan charge, Morgan or no Morgan. The floor general is a tremendous ball handler, distributor, defender and scorer. He rarely turns the ball over (only 1.7 per game), an added plus. Complementing Lucas in the backcourt are Chris Allen, Travis Walton and Korie Lucious. Allen is the team’s lone true 2-guard. A very adept shooter, he is in the game almost exclusively to jack up threes. After a long cold streak, Allen is finally starting to find his stroke again. Walton is a guy who most teams would be thrilled to have starting at point guard, but at Michigan State, he is delegated to bench duty. However, there is a reason Walton gets more minutes (28.1) than any State starter aside from Lucas; he’s that valuable. The senior provides scoring, rebounding and passing off the bench, not to mention leadership. Many teams would count their blessings having two great point guards, but third stringer Korie Lucious already has a double digit assist performance this year. Only a freshman, he is being groomed to replace Lucas. Morgan’s frontcourt mates include Goran Suton, Delvon Roe and Marquise Gray. Michigan State missed Suton for some early games this season, and it showed in blowout losses to UNC and Maryland. With him, they have their leading rebounder and most traditional inside presence. Despite this label, Suton is becoming more and more prone to drifting outside and knocking down the open three. Roe, a superfreshman, has started in place of the injured Suton and sick Morgan, so he knows where he is needed. A beast on the glass, Roe has hauled in nearly as many rebounds as he has scored. Gray is another big and capable body at Izzo’s disposal; he boasts around 4 and 4 a game. Draymond Green is just a freshman, but already in State’s system is he a reliable bench player. A hybrid player for Michigan State is Durrell Summers. Summers isn’t a full guard or a full forward, but he helps out wherever necessary and is 3rd on the team in ppg.
Purdue is also led by an oft-ailed big man. Robbie Hummel is off and on, but he too will play against Michigan State following an awful performance at Iowa. The Boilers need him to play great to knock off the conference’s best. Aiding him in the other forward position is JaJuan Johnson, who at times this year has looked like a premier defender and superb scorer. Nemanja Calasan and Marcus Green have been utilized as a little more than role players in Hummel’s absence. Both are very good rebounders and capable of scoring from long. E’Twaun Moore and Chris Kramer are taller, lankier guards who can be threats on the glass as well. Moore is known for his cuts to the basket, he is Purdue’s leading scorer (13.6 ppg). Kramer is the Big Ten’s reining Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Despite averaging less than five points a game he plays a lot due to his spectacular heart, hustle and defensive prowess. Keaton Grant is also a guy who has carried many of Hummel’s minutes. Grant is a great player who you can never forget about; he often disappears only to score six in a row for Purdue. The point guard battle between Kalin Lucas and lightning quick Lewis Jackson will be a good one. If Jackson can only contain Lucas, not even shut him down, it increases Purdue’s winning chances.
Michigan State is the hottest team in the conference right now, and Purdue is coming off a less than stellar performance against Iowa. The Spartans prove they are still the team to beat in the Big Ten.
Winner: Michigan State Margin: 5-8 points
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Michigan State has had some questionable home losses, but is still the class of the Big Ten. The uncertain health of Robbie Hummel could play a major factor, but in the end, the Spartans are a better team regardless of whether he's 100% or not.
Early Prediction: Michigan St