Michigan St.-Purdue Preview
Before the season, coach Tom Izzo said he believed this Michigan State team had the potential be special.
After multiple injuries to key players, a shooting slump from another and a general inconsistent effort recently, even Izzo may be doubting that notion.
The 13th-ranked Spartans look to get back on track Thursday night as they seek a sixth straight victory over host Purdue.
Early on, Izzo's statement seemed legitimate. Michigan State (21-5, 10-3 Big Ten) held the No. 1 ranking for two weeks and won 18 of its first 19 games, including victories over then-No. 1 Kentucky on Nov. 12 and then-No. 3 Ohio State on Jan. 7.
Injuries then began taking their toll. Adreian Payne missed seven games with a foot injury, fellow senior Keith Appling played through a hip issue before sitting out three games with a wrist injury, and top rebounder Branden Dawson is currently out with a broken hand.
Appling returned Sunday after not practicing for two weeks and played 19 minutes off the bench, but the Spartans trailed throughout most of the contest in a disappointing 60-51 home loss to Nebraska. Appling had two points, dropping his average to 14.4.
Michigan State, which has lost four of seven, shot a season-low 34.0 percent from the field, but Izzo put most of the blame on himself. The Spartans missed a chance to take sole possession of the Big Ten lead after Michigan lost to Wisconsin earlier in the day.
"There are always tough losses in a season. This one was the toughest so far," Izzo said. "On the other side of it, I'm not upset about the loss because we got exactly what we deserved.
"The only guy that takes the blame for that is me. It's my job to get them ready to play and we didn't look ready to play. For that, don't blame them, blame me."
Gary Harris scored 18 points, but he shot 5 of 15 from the field and has hit only 29.7 percent of his attempts over his last four. Though the sophomore is tied for third in the conference in scoring, averaging 17.4 points, he's shooting just 40.9 percent.
"He's in here morning, noon and night shooting. I don't know what you do," Izzo said. "All I can tell you is he's working on it. We're just going to keep going to him, because he is what he is."
Dawson could return for Sunday's showdown against the 20th-ranked Wolverines, but the Spartans have plenty of other concerns heading into this contest. Izzo is hoping another tough loss will have them more focused.
"A little controversy might bring us a little closer together, and maybe they'll stop listening to the outside world and listen to the inside world," Izzo said. "There are so many games left, but we did what non-championship teams do. We did not bring it."
Michigan State hasn't had much trouble against Purdue lately, winning each of the past five meetings by double digits. The Boilermakers, though, are coming off an 82-64 win over Indiana after dropping five of their previous six.
"For us it's just one game at a time now," Johnson said. "We've got Michigan State on Thursday and that's going to be our mentality for the rest of the season."
This is the only scheduled matchup with the Spartans this season for Purdue, which hasn't beaten Michigan State since a 67-47 home win Feb. 27, 2011.