It’s make or break time for Michigan State. By this time next week we’ll know if the Spartans still have a chance at winning the Big Ten or if championship dreams are dead.
This week’s schedule will be difficult for the fourth-ranked Michigan State Spartans, with two games that each possess challenges. Michigan State will begin this tough slate with a road trip to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes.
Iowa hasn’t lived up expectations this year, with the Hawkeyes currently sitting near the cellar of the league. However, playing at Carver-Hawkeye Arena hasn’t always been easy for Michigan State — remember when Iowa knocked off the top-ranked Spartans in 2015? So I’m not ready to count this as an automatic win for the green-and-white.
If Michigan State survives its road trip to Iowa, then they’ll return home for possibly the league’s best matchup of the year against No. 3 Purdue. As you probably already know, the Boilermakers are currently in the middle of a 19-game winning streak and sit alone at the top of the Big Ten as the league’s only undefeated team. That could change before Matt Painter’s squad travels to East Lansing — Purdue hosts No. 13 Ohio State on Wednesday — but regardless of what happens in that game, this will be a heavyweight matchup.
So when you look at what is ahead of the Spartans this week, it’s easy to see how this week is a make or break stretch. Lose one of these games and Michigan State is basically eliminated. Win them both, and they are smack dab in the middle of this championship race. It’s a pretty exciting spot to be in if you’re a proud supporter of the Spartans.
With their backs against the wall, will the Spartans be able to come through? Well, they’ve basically been in a must-win situation since losing to Michigan on Jan. 13. The Spartans are a perfect 6-0 since that loss, and have used gutsy performances in their last three-games to pull out victories. Two of those included double-digit second half comebacks, so I’d say they are up to the challenge.
A key area to watch in both of these games will be turnovers. Turnovers fuel a team looking to pull off a big upset, and Purdue is simply too good to give away numerous possessions. Reducing turnovers will be a great indication if the Spartans are ready to live up to their preseason expectations.
Next week at this time the Spartans could find themselves in a three-way tie for first place. That’s unlikely to be honest — but if they can at least take care of business on their end, then they’ll still have a chance to win a share of the Big Ten regular season title. That’s all you can ask for if you’re a Spartan fan right now.
Quick Preview of Both Opponents
When: Tuesday at 9 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena — televised on ESPN
Quick Glance: It’s been a very disappointing season for Iowa with the Hawkeyes currently below .500 and heading towards back-to-back years of missing the NCAA Tournament. Part of the reason Iowa’s struggled is because they can’t stop anyone on the defensive end. They give up the most points per game in the league and are also the worst Big Ten team at defending the long ball with opponents averaging 41.8 percent from three-point range. On the flipside, Iowa has some scoring threats — the Hawkeyes average 80.2 points per game and have four players averaging more than 10 points per game.
No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers
When: Saturday at 4 p.m.
Where: Breslin Center — televised on ESPN
Quick Glance: Two of the league’s deepest and most talented teams will go at on Saturday in what should be an incredible game. There are a number of different matchups to watch in this game, but I’ll quickly hit on the battle between Purdue’s bigs against Michigan State’s. Both teams have size in the post and feature wings that can also be productive down low. Whoever gets more offensive production in the paint and wins the rebounding battle will have a great chance at snagging this game.