CHICAGO – With six Big Ten teams ranked in the Top 25, no doubt there will be nightly battles during conference play.
Michigan State will have its in-state rivalry with Michigan – both in the Top 25 – and Purdue will savor its two matchups with Indiana.
But there is another rivalry quickly brewing.
Some Boilermakers are admitting there is a bigger game on their schedule in conference play than the one against the Hoosiers: The Spartans are the top target now.
Thats what happens when teams compete for conference championships.
Michigan State won the 2008-09 regular-season title, and Purdue tied for second. The Boilermakers, however, won the Big Ten conference tournament.
This season, the Spartans are picked to win the regular season by Big Ten media, and Purdue is picked second.
Michigan State is ranked No. 2 in The AP preseason poll, and Purdue is No. 7.
Theyre the highest-ranked teams in the Big Ten, so their matchups in West Lafayette (Feb. 9) and in East Lansing (Feb. 27 or 28) are must-sees.
Its going to be some big games that we play against them, Purdue junior JaJuan Johnson said. We know that. They know that. Theres going to be a lot of hype. Hopefully, it goes good for us.
Purdue has finished second in conference play the last two seasons, and players talk every day about securing that regular-season championship, Johnson said. It would be the programs first since 1996.
To achieve that goal, Purdue expects to have to beat Michigan State.
The Boilers have done that – at home – in coach Matt Painters tenure, winning all three matchups with the Spartans at Mackey Arena. But the Boilermakers havent won at Michigan State since 1998.
Last season, Purdue cruised to a 72-54 victory at home but struggled in a 62-51 loss at the Breslin Center. In 2007-08, Purdue won by six at home and lost by three on the road.
When we play them at their place, its always like the second-to-last game or the last game (of the Big Ten), Purdue guard Keaton Grant said. Hopefully, it wont be a deciding factor. If it is, (ESPNs) College GameDay should be there.
Theyre a fun team to play against. Ive never talked to their players about it, but Im pretty sure its not fun to come play in Mackey.
At the same time, its even more exciting to play at Michigan State, being surrounded by (student) fans. Who has that in the country?
The anticipation for the games isnt just one-sided.
Its always a game to look forward to because you know theyre going to bring it and play their hardest, Michigan States Raymar Morgan said.
I think their coach did a great job in recruiting and got a lot of guys that are on the same page and that are consistent.
Theyre a tough team thats going to get after you on the defensive end but can also score; just a pretty well-rounded team.
Purdue has respect for the Spartans, too.
Painter said Tom Izzos team has established itself as the model for what you want to do.
Chris Kramer praised Michigan States rebounding, called the Spartans one of the best transition teams in the country and echoed Painters sentiments.
Michigan State has always been at that level, and we finally recovered from where we were before I even got there and just keep on taking strides, said Kramer, a senior.
With such high expectations, both of us probably being in the top 10, its going to be a big game on the schedule for a lot of people.
Its just a big-time game for everybody to watch because that could determine the Big Ten championship, hopefully with us coming out on top.