Michigan St.-Purdue Preview

Despite playing in a conference that boasts six teams in the AP

poll, Purdue is the nation’s only ranked team that hasn’t faced a

Top 25 opponent.

That’s about to change.

The 14th-ranked Boilermakers begin a grueling four-game stretch

against ranked opponents Saturday night when they host No. 17

Michigan State, which has faced more top-flight competition than

any team in the country.

Purdue (16-3, 5-1 Big Ten) has faced two teams currently in the

Top 25 over the past 10 days, but neither Minnesota nor West

Virginia was in the poll until knocking off the Boilermakers.

Those two road losses – by a combined seven points – knocked

Purdue out of the top 10, and coach Matt Painter’s team nearly

stumbled again Wednesday night against Penn State.

But JaJuan Johnson hit an 18-foot jumper with 3 seconds left,

lifting the Boilermakers to a 63-62 win – their 11th straight at

home – and helping them avoid a three-game skid heading into

Saturday’s showdown.

“We were just happy we survived, to be honest with you,” Painter

said. “We weren’t jumping around celebrating or anything. We knew

we were very fortunate to get this win.”

Purdue is about to get an idea of how good it really is over the

next 11 days. After hosting the Spartans (12-6, 4-2), the

Boilermakers travel to top-ranked Ohio State on Tuesday, return

home to face now-No. 15 Minnesota next Saturday, then visit

18th-ranked Wisconsin on Feb. 1.

Michigan State, meanwhile, has navigated a brutal schedule that

has featured seven Top 25 foes – more than any other team has

faced.

The Spartans were 3-3 in those contests heading to Illinois on

Tuesday, when some poor shooting finally caught up with them.

Michigan State survived its previous two games in overtime despite

shooting under 40 percent, but its 37.5 percent effort against the

No. 23 Illini proved costly in a 71-62 loss.

“We had a chance but we could never get over the hump,” coach

Tom Izzo said.

It was Purdue’s struggles from the field – and the Spartans’

defense and rebounding – that made the difference when the teams

last met in West Lafayette. Michigan State outrebounded the

Boilermakers 46-20 and limited Painter’s team to 30.0 percent

shooting in a 53-44 win Feb. 28 – Purdue’s first game after Robbie

Hummel tore his ACL.

E’Twaun Moore missed 10 of 13 shots in that game just 19 days

after scoring a game-high 25 in a 76-64 win at East Lansing.

Moore has been struggling with his shot lately as well, but

Purdue has to hope his 7-of-15 effort against Penn State got him

back on track. He averaged 8.5 points and shot 26.3 percent in the

Boilermakers’ first four games this month.

Johnson, however, is picking up the slack. He’s averaged 26.7

points in his last three games.

“JaJuan is very confident,” Painter said. “I would say that’s

his last step in his development. He’s skilled, he’s athletic, he

can run, he’s coachable, he’s fun to be around, he’s unselfish, but

now, he’s confident.”

Johnson will have his hands full against Michigan State’s

Draymond Green, third in the conference in rebounding (8.7 rpg) and

averaging 18.0 points in the last three games, but Purdue is

unlikely to struggle as much on the boards as it did in the last

meeting. The Spartans led the nation in rebound differential –

plus-8.6 – last season, but they’re tied for 57th – plus-4.4 – in

2010-11.

The Boilermakers’ plus-7.2 differential in Big Ten games is the

best in the conference.

While Moore’s struggles have hurt Purdue recently, Michigan

State can say the same about Durrell Summers. The senior guard was

scoring 15.6 points per game before averaging 6.7 in his last three

games while shooting 30.4 percent, and Izzo kept him out of the

starting lineup against Illinois.