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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, February 10, 2018 4:20 pm

Pregame: No. 3 Purdue (23-3, 12-1 Big Ten) at No. 4 Michigan State (23-3, 11-2)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Saturday is the third time this season Purdue is coming off a loss. The first time, it lost to Western Kentucky. The second, it beat No. 2 Arizona by 25 points in arguably its best performance of the season.

Purdue is now following a loss for the first time in 2 1/2 months. It would be easy for the Boilermakers to come out flat after the deflating manner in which it fell to Ohio State. In that sense, it's lucky for Purdue that it has to play No. 4 Michigan State. Against a lesser team, Purdue might have something of a hangover from its loss to the Buckeyes. Against the Spartans, however, the Boilers know there's no margin for error. They have to come out firing from the opening tip. 

As I said in my preview video, this game could hinge on rebounding. The Boilers have been outrebounded seven games in a row, while Michigan State ranks third in the country in average rebounding margin. It's imperative that the Boilers crash the offensive glass. If they can grab some offensive rebounds it will force the Spartans to hang back, rather than getting out in transition, as they love to do. Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston, especially, will push the pace every chance he gets.

Purdue is one of the few teams that could hang with the Spartans in a track meet, but the Boilers would likely prefer to play a little slower. They'll probably make an effort early to force the ball into Isaac Haas in the post, much like they did against Ohio State when the big man had 10 of his team's first 14 points.

Expect Michigan State to have some different looks for Haas, sending either long-armed Jaren Jackson Jr. or powerful Nick Ward at him on defense. Purdue has struggled from beyond the arc by its standards recently, so the Spartans will probably want the Boilers to prove that they can hit shots before they ease up on Haas and focus more on the perimeter.

Simply put, this is the biggest game of Purdue's regular season. A win leaves it in contention for a No. 1 seed in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, while a loss will bring questions about whether the team's long winning streak was a mirage created by a soft schedule. Expect Purdue to be ready for this game, especially Haas, who was shut down in the second half against Ohio State. I expect him and the Boilers to come out with something to prove.