4 things will decide Purdue-Michigan State, the Big Ten basketball game you need to watch

Purdue and Michigan State basketball play on Saturday in what should be Big Ten’s premier game of the 2017-18 season. Each team enters the matchup ranked in the top 5 of the AP poll, and each is a potential Final Four candidate.

The No. 3 Boilermakers are coming off their first loss since Thanksgiving, a 64-63 defeat against surprise Big Ten leader Ohio State. No. 4 Michigan State’s losses came against Ohio State and Michigan in a two-game stretch in January, and it hasn’t lost since.

In a down season for the conference, this is going to be Big Ten basketball you’ll actually want to watch. Here’s what you should look for:

Michigan State and Purdue are excellent on 3s; who will have the better day?

Purdue’s 42.7 percent mark on 3s ranks best in the country. Michigan State shoots 41.6 percent, good for eighth. Purdue starts four shooters and spreads the ball around while utilizing whichever 7-footer is currently on the court, making for some entertaining play that’s hard to stop as long as they’re hitting shots. Michigan State doesn’t quite push it to that extreme, but still starts four shooters and a center.

Advantage: Purdue gets the nod here, but not by much. Both teams can fill it up.

Purdue and Michigan State will battle down low

Purdue has 7-foot-2 starter Isaac Haas and 7-3 backup Matt Haarms, and starts 6-7 Vince Edwards, who’s really a small forward, at power forward. Michigan State starts 6-8 beefy center Nick Ward and 6-11 NBA draft darling Jaren Jackson Jr. at forward.

Jackson is the most versatile out of these four. His long arms and solid 3-point stroke allow him to block shots and force his matchup to guard him all the way out to the arc, something none of the other three here can say. Whether he’s against the slower Haas and Haarms or the faster-but-smaller Edwards, Jackson is a mismatch. And those long arms could be a problem for Purdue’s small guards.

Haas is a giant. He’s hard to move down low, doesn’t foul as much as he once did and has improved his post moves steadily over his four-year career. His touch wasn’t this soft before.

Advantage: Michigan State. Jackson’s versatility is huge here, as is the potential mismatch he’ll have on Edwards.

How does Purdue guard Miles Bridges?

Here’s how the other three likely starting matchups look (Purdue players listed first):

Point guard: 5-10 P.J. Thompson vs. 6-foot Cassius Winston

Shooting guard: 6-1 Carsen Edwards vs. 6-5 Joshua Langford

Small forward: 6-4 Dakota Mathias vs. 6-7 Miles Bridges

Michigan State has the height advantage in each of them, but Bridges vs. whoever ends up guarding him is the biggest one. Purdue loves to surround whichever 7-footer is in with four lights-out shooters. Michigan State’s height makes that strategy somewhat of a bold play, because the Spartans athletes are likely to be able to keep up with Purdue’s.

More: How Purdue quietly became one of college basketball’s best teams

Purdue’s player best suited to guard Bridges is Vince Edwards, but Michigan State starts Bridges, Jackson and Ward. Assuming Edwards is on Jackson, who guards Bridges? He’s a sure-fire first-round draft pick who could have been a lottery pick had he left after last season.

One solution Purdue coach Matt Painter could employ against the Bridges-Jackson-Ward lineup could be his own Edwards-Haarms-Haas grouping. But Painter doesn’t play both 7-footers at the same time, so that’s probably out. Purdue could end up playing zone on Michigan State, but that in itself won’t solve anything. Bridges vs. Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson, Carsen Edwards or Ryan Cline is a matchup Purdue does not want to see. Bridges shoots 37 percent from deep, which is fine, and can also do this:

Purdue will need to make good rotations on defense and avoid getting out of position. The Boilermakers have done a solid job of that all year, though, and Haas and Haarms make for some great insurance at the rim.

Advantage: Michigan State. Bridges just wreaked havoc with 28 points against Iowa on Tuesday. This will be a tougher task for Michigan State’s star, but I’m not sure Purdue matches up well with him.

Carsen Edwards vs. Michigan State’s back court should be a ton of fun

Carsen Edwards’ big freshman-to-sophomore jump has been a huge reason for Purdue’s success. The guard scored 28 points on 14 shots in the Boilermakers loss to Ohio State, and can carry the team when it’s needed. He’s athletic enough to drive on anyone, plays excellent defense and is hitting 40 percent of his 3s. He’s been a standout this season.

He’ll be matched up against come combination of Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn of Michigan State. Winston is shooting over 50 percent on 3s, so it’s possible we see those two go back-to-back on some big shots late in the game.

Advantage: Push. Michigan State’s back court has impressive depth, and Langford’s no slouch.

Big Ten basketball hasn’t been great this season, but this game is worth your time. Tune in at 4 p.m. on ESPN to see which team stays in the race for the Big Ten title behind surprise leader Ohio State.

The post 4 things will decide Purdue-Michigan State, the Big Ten basketball game you need to watch appeared first on Land of 10.

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