The Michigan State Spartans continue their brutal schedule Saturday night with a visit to West Lafayette. Purdue is off to a 5-1 start in Big 10 play, with their lone loss coming nine days ago at The Barn in Minnesota. They are ranked 13th and have a 16-3 record, though their schedule has been somewhat easy thus far.
The Spartans are coming off a tough loss at Illinois. They had a chance to win the game in the final minutes, but could not make key shots down the stretch to come out with a victory. The big difference in that game was three-point shooting. MSU shot a dismal 7-26 from behind the arc, while allowing Illinois to hit 8 of their 17 attempts. State must defend the deep ball much better in this game, and not allow Purdue’s guards to penetrate and kick like Demetri McCamey was able to Tuesday night.
Purdue has coped with the loss of Robbie Hummel very well. Their defeats have come against Minnesota, West Virginia, and Richmond. Purdue is still searching for their first signature win this season, and have an opportunity to get it tonight.
They are led by two seniors, who are two of the best players in the Big 10. JaJuan Johnson, Purdue’s lanky center, is the leading scorer in the conference. Plain and simple, he is a match-up nightmare. He is 6’10 and has a huge wingspan. In addition to his great size, the All-American candidate can step out and hit 15 foot jumpers with consistency. He utilizes his high release point to shoot over smaller defenders, and is fourth in the conference in rebounding. On the defensive end, he is a great help defender. Johnson averages over 2.2 blocks per game, and makes it very difficult for smaller guards to finish in the paint.
Purdue’s other star is E’Twaun Moore. The 6’4″ two-guard averages 17.6 points per game and was a First-team All-Big 10 selection a year ago. Moore is also a very tough perimeter defender. He is a good three-point shooter, and can beat his defender off the dribble to score in a variety of ways. He can score by shooting off-the-dribble, and finishes well at the basket.
This is a huge game for both teams. MSU already has six losses, and will need to win this game to stay in the Big 10 title hunt. As I mentioned earlier, Purdue is still searching for their first signature win. This is the beginning of a very difficult stretch for them, where they will play four ranked teams in a row. They want to start this slate with a win to build momentum, and take care of business at their home court, which is vital to a team’s success in this conference.
Here are the keys to the game from MSU’s perspective:
1) LIMIT PURDUE’S STARS
Johnson and Moore are phenomenal players. However, Purdue is extremely reliant on those two to account for most of their scoring; no one else on their team averages over eight points-per-game. Both Johnson and Moore will be effective on the offensive end, but the Spartans must do their best to limit those two players’ scoring output.
MSU doesn’t have a true center who is a great match-up for Johnson. I expect Draymond Green and Delvon Roe to guard him most of the game. Both of these players are shorter than Johnson, and will need to be right up in his grill to disrupt his mid-range shot. Green and Roe are both very strong, and will need to use their strength to make sure Johnson does not get good position in the post. They must out-muscle him and make sure he catches the ball in places where he is not comfortable.
Durrell Summers will be given the task of keeping Moore in check. Summers must play a strong defensive game for MSU to have a chance. Do not be surprised to see Keith Appling guarding Moore at times; the freshman has played very well the past few games. Yes, he a few inches shorter than Moore, but is arguably the teams best perimeter defender. If State can limit these two player to 30 points combined, they have a great shot to win the game.
2) POUND THE OFFENSIVE GLASS
Matt Painter always fields teams who are very strong defensively. Lewis Jackson and Moore are both great perimeter defenders, and Johnson is one of the best shot-blockers in the country. I do not expect State to get many great looks at the basket, so hitting the offensive glass hard and creating extra possessions will be huge in this game. Delvon Roe has been fantastic in this regard in Big 10 play. He will need to continue his relentlessness in this game for MSU to win.
3) DON’T SETTLE FOR JUMP SHOTS AND THREE-POINTERS
MSU has been shooting from the perimeter far too much this season. They shot 26 threes against Illinois, many of which were contested. Kalin Lucas, MSU’s best slasher, will have a tough time beating Jackson off the dribble. With JaJuan Johnson lurking in the paint, I could once again see the team avoiding the painted area. The Spartans must not be afraid of Johnson’s presence, and take the ball right to him. If they can get him in foul-trouble, it will make it infinitely easier for State to convert around the basket, and will take Purdue’s biggest offensive weapon out of the game. MSU must run crisp sets, not settle for jump-shots, and try and get the ball to the hoop as much as possible.
4) PLAY WITH POISE
Mackey Arena will be rocking. College Gameday is in West Lafayette, and the students will certainly be fired up for a 9 p.m. game against a strong opponent on a Saturday night. MSU is 10th in the Big 10 in turnover margin, and will see plenty of ball-pressure from Purdue’s guards. Kalin Lucas, Korie Lucious, and Draymond Green all average over two turnovers-a-game for the Spartans. The whole team needs to navigate through PU’s pressure with poise, and avoid committing the mental mistakes that has plagued this team. State has also had problems shooting free throws this season. The Spartans need to get to the line frequently and convert their opportunities once they get there. They must be composed, take care of the ball, and hit their free throws if they hope to come out of this tough environment with a win.