Purdue began the day with a resounding 76-59 win over Michigan to reach the Big Ten Title game, and Michigan State followed by hanging on against Maryland (64-61). Now, the teams meet for the second time this season for the 2016 Big Ten Tournament Title.
The Spartans have been, perhaps, playing the best of any Big Ten team at this point (eight straight wins), but the Boilermakers, over the last two games, could lay claim to that mantle (winners of five in a row). Michigan State and Purdue appear to be as evenly matched as any two teams in the Big Ten; let's take a deeper look.
The First Meeting
The first game between Purdue and Michigan State went to overtime, with the Boilermakers winning 82-81. The first and second halves of that game, in West Lafayette, were mirrored images. Purdue won the first 46-30; Michigan State responded in the second 42-26, which of course forced overtime.
Purdue led for more than 35 minutes of the first meeting, and held, at its largest, an 18-point lead. Michigan State though hung tough and actually outscored Purdue in the paint, 28-26 (more on this later). Denzel Valentine (surprise, surprise) played spectacularly (27 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds). For Purdue, Rapheal Davis (24 points, seven rebounds) and A.J. Hammons (19 points, 13 rebounds) carried the Boilermakers.
These two teams are playing well, and match up very closely with one another, which all points to a close title game.
Can Michigan State neutralize Purdue's size?
Michigan State didn't get crushed by Purdue inside. Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis provide enough size to hang tough against the Boilermakers. In fact, they may be able to defend them without having to consistently double team.
During the Big Ten Tournament, Purdue has shot 17-for-39 from three. The Boilermakers made Illinois pay for double-teams, and against Michigan, Purdue was less effective from three but Hammons scored 27 points. Lately, the Boilermakers have been incredibly dangerous when they're passing out of post double teams and hitting perimeter jumpers.
Michigan State proved in the first game (at least in the second half), even though Hammons got his points, that it can largely guard Purdue's size without giving too much on the perimeter. Both Costello and Davis will have great responsibilities on defense and on the defensive glass.
How will Purdue defend Denzel Valentine?
Purdue has a group of perimeter defenders it can throw at Denzel Valentine. In most cases, it doesn't seem to matter how he's defended; Valentine can get his shot. Valentine has scored in double figures in every game that he's played this year, except one.
He's especially dangerous though as a playmaker, getting others involved. Valentine averages more than seven assists per game. Vince Edwards and Rapheal Davis have the size and athleticism to make life difficult.. Look; it's hard. Valentine can seemly get his shot whenever, and he's so unselfish and draws so much attention that he can find open teammates.
Maybe Purdue will try to get the ball out of his hands early in the possession and then play denial basketball (something close to a box-and-one zone). Valentine's so dangerous when surrounded by Eron Harris, Matt McQuaid and Bryn Forbes who can all shoot, and Davis and Costello who are very capable scorers around the basket. In other words, Valentine has a lot of options when he starts to create offensive, so it'll be on Purdue to limit Valentine's opportunities to create.
These teams are so evenly matched; I suspect it'll be a great game if both teams play to potential.
This season, for Purdue, it's always been about their size and playing through Hammons, Swanigan and Haas, because it opens up open perimeter shots and driving lanes when defenders rush to close out. For Michigan State, it's a veteran team, led by perhaps college basketball's National Player of the Year.
It'll be great fun to see who rises to the occasion tomorrow and what gives when it comes to the match ups. Certainly, Michigan State and Purdue makes for an intriguing Big Ten Tournament title game and a solid finish to the 2015-2016 Big Ten season.