On Saturday afternoon, the #16 Purdue Boilermakers hosted the Michigan State Spartans in a Big Ten showdown in West Lafayette, Indiana.
This game had major implications for Purdue (22-5, 11-3 in Big Ten), who entered the game in a three-way tie for first place in the conference with #10 Wisconsin and #24 Maryland. Michigan State (16-11, 8-6) looked to keep the momentum going after winning four of their last five games.
It was a game that saw Purdue take the lead, 17-14, on a Spike Albrecht three pointer with 11:24 left in the first half. The Boilermakers never trailed after that point, opening up a 37-26 halftime lead on an Isaac Haas jumper that closed the first half scoring. Purdue dominated the second half, pushing the lead 20 points on multiple occasions, including a game high 22 point lead with 2:41 remaining in the game.
Here’s what we learned.
What We Learned
1. Purdue is a Final Four caliber team.
For some reason, America is slow to warm to Purdue as a Final Four contender, but that’s exactly what they are. The Boilermakers have won five in a row, and eight of their last nine. Three of those game were tough road contests: at Michigan State, at Maryland, and at in-state rival Indiana.
The Boilermakers are winning with complete offensive balance. They also feature two huge post presences in sophomore Caleb Swanigan, and 7’2” junior Isaac Haas. In addition, they feature a wide array of shooters, ranking the Boilermakers sixth in the nation with a 41.3 team three point percentage. They even have depth, with Haas, Albrecht, and Ryan Kline all playing major minutes.
All those pieces add up to arguably the deepest and most talented roster in the Big Ten and make Purdue a contender for this year’s Final Four.
2. Caleb Swanigan is a top contender for National Player of the Year.
Caleb Swanigan had his 23rd double-double of the season with 24 points and 15 rebounds. The 6’8” power forward has put himself at the top of the list for not only the Big Ten Player of the Year, but also the National Player of the Year race as well. Swanigan is averaging 18.7 points per game, 13.0 rebounds per game, while maintaining a three point average of 47.5 percent (28 of 59).
The best statistic of all for Swanigan?
In his last 19 games, he has 18 double doubles. He is a consistent scorer, is shooting 77 percent from the foul line, and has the ability to avoid foul trouble (two total fouls in his last two games). Caleb Swanigan is as important to his team as any player in the entire country. That makes him a legitimate National Player of the Year Candidate.
3. Michigan State is in danger of not making the NCAA Tournament.
This has been a difficult year for the Spartans. It started when both Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter suffered preseason injuries and went out for the entire year. Then, star freshman Miles Bridges missed seven games with an ankle injury. Now, senior guard Eron Harris left this game on a stretcher midway through the second half with a right knee injury.
Coach Tom Izzo has been trying to keep this team afloat all season, but even his brilliant coaching may not be enough to get Michigan State to the NCAA tournament. The Spartans are now just 16-11 and 8-6 in the Big Ten. At this point, they are in the tournament, but what will this team look like in March?
Assuming the Spartans go 2-2 over the last four conference games, they would end the regular season at 18-11. A first round loss in the Big Ten tournament would potentially put them on the outside looking in for March Madness. The Spartans will need scoring from someone other than Bridges, who was the only starter with double-digit scoring.
Considering the circumstances, this game was far bigger for Purdue than it was for Michigan State. The Boilermakers needed this one desperately for the Big Ten race and while the Spartans needed a marquee win, expecting that win to come in this one would have been asking for a bit much. Both teams will not move on from this matchup into the final few weeks of conference play.
The #16 Boilermakers go on the road for back-to-back Big Ten matchups against Penn State and Michigan. These games are pivotal as they try to win their first Big Ten regular season title since 2010. The Spartans have two tough home games against Nebraska and #11 Wisconsin, as they fight to get off the NCAA tournament bubble.