After being routed early on their schedule by Maryland and North Carolina, Tom Izzo's Spartans have turned things around to sit 20-4 overall and atop the Big Ten standings with a 10-2 conference record. Monday's two polls have Michigan State up to No. 5 in the coaches' order and No. 6 on the scribes' list. The Spartans put the new rankings on the line at Purdue on Tuesday with the Boilermakers a bucket favorite.
Maybe the Michigan State Spartans will get that No. 1 seed after all.
Emphatic non-conference losses to Maryland (+7½) and North Carolina (-10) were supposed to foreshadow Tom Izzo’s team failing to meet its preseason Final Four expectations. But memories are short in college hoops. The Spartans (20-4 SU, 12-8-1 ATS, No. 9 Pomeroy) leapfrogged from No. 9 to No. 5 in Monday’s ESPN/USA Today poll, taking advantage of losses by Duke, Louisville and Wake Forest, among others.
Polls, schmolls. While the top guns in the ACC and Big East keep knocking each other down, the Spartans still have the toughest part of their Big Ten schedule in front of them. It starts with Tuesday’s trip to Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, where the Purdue Boilermakers (19-6 SU, 10-11 ATS, No. 17 Pomeroy) opened as 2½-point favorites. The Boilers beat the Spartans the last two times they came to Indiana, each as 1½-point faves.
More recent history, though, is in favor of Michigan State. Let’s start with the technical side. The Boilers have cashed in just once in their last four games at 2-2 SU. They’re 0-4 ATS this year when favored by fewer than three points, while the Spartans are 2-0 ATS as underdogs of seven points or below. Purdue is also a lousy 5-10 ATS after scoring under 75 points; Saturday’s 49-45 victory at Iowa (+5) continued that trend.
The Boilers have been getting it done with defense, and the matchup on the floor does play into their strengths when Michigan State has the ball. The Spartans aren’t going to wreak havoc from downtown – they’re ranked No. 299 in Division I with 27.2 percent of their field-goal attempts coming from behind the arc. Purdue, meanwhile, holds opponents to a mere 39.8-percent success rate on 2-point attempts. That’s the fourth-lowest rate in the nation.
The problem for the Boilermakers is what they’re going to do when they have the ball. Purdue isn’t a very good shooting team at all: 35.0 percent from 3-point land, 49.6 percent from 2-poinr range and 70.2 percent from the free-throw line, all falling outside the Top 100 in Division I. The Boilers have to squeeze what they can out of every possession, which they do by keeping their turnover rate low.
Purdue certainly won’t get too many second chances against the Michigan State defense. The Boilers are already No. 279 in the nation in offensive rebounding at 29.4 percent; the Spartans hold their opponents even lower at 27.2 percent, or tenth overall. This is the advantage you get when you have forwards like Goran Suton and promising freshman Delvon Roe at your disposal.
But the toughest battles either of these two teams has faced have been in the hospital. Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan missed the last three games with mono. Morgan is MSU’s second-leading scorer with 12.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game; Izzo told The Detroit News on Monday that he might get 15-20 minutes out of Morgan on Tuesday, describing his conditioning as “not awful.”
The story’s been worse on Purdue’s side. Guards Lewis Jackson and Keaton Grant have been dealing with flu-like symptoms, while forward Robbie Hummel has a hairline fracture in his lower back. Purdue’s best player shot 1-for-7 against Iowa after missing the previous three games and is listed as questionable for Tuesday. This is where things could really fall apart for the Boilers – they’re 1-3 SU and ATS in Big Ten play this year without Hummel (12.4 points, 7.3 rebounds per game) on the floor.
Everyone knows this matchup is going to be grueling and physical, so all these ailments should only contribute to another low-scoring slugfest. Make sure to check the latest betting odds for Tuesday night’s total; the under was a winner in the last three games for each team, and is 7-1 in their last eight meetings dating back to 2004.