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College Basketball Pick
Purdue is still writhing a bit from not being labeled one of the country's best 16 teams in last weekend's reveal, but the Boilermakers have quietly moved on and are sporting a four-game winning streak heading into the final couple weeks of the season. Michigan State has won four of its last five, but with the help of a much easier schedule. A win for the Spartans would likely guarantee a berth into the NCAA tournament, but considering how last game went, Purdue should win this one by double digits.
These teams met in East Lansing almost a month ago with Purdue flexing its muscle in the second half en route to an 84-73 win. MSU led for most of the first half, but Purdue built its lead in the second after MSU's only real big man, Nick Ward, got into foul trouble. And that's where the difference will be in this game. If Ward gets into foul trouble, the Spartans don't have enough size to deal with both Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. Without Ward, 6-6 Kenny Goins and 6-7 Miles Bridges would be left to guard the bigs of Purdue, which isn't going to cut it and that's the main reason the Boilers won the rebounding battle in that first meeting, 36-23.
Swanigan did whatever he wanted with 25 points and 17 boards, while Purdue had five other guys in double figures. It was a bit less balanced for Michigan State as Miles Bridges had 33 points and no one else had more than nine. Assuming Bridges won't have that type of performance again, it's going to take quite an effort from the rest of the Spartans to keep this close. Again, that starts with keeping Ward out of foul trouble as he's also MSU's second-best scorer.
But it won't be that easy for Purdue. While Swanigan and Haas will have success, it can't be forgotten the Boilers were 11-of-21 from three-point range in that first game. While they have a great shooting team and often get open looks because of the double teams down low, that's still a hard rate to match. The biggest key will be how the Michigan State defense performs, because it wasn't great in that first meeting.
On the other end, outside of Bridges and Ward, the Spartans would like to get a little more from Eron Harris and Cassius Winston than how those two performed in the first meeting. To help, Joshua Langford has been much better lately, scoring 18 points in the last two games, while Alvin Ellis III has turned into a legitimate scorer, dropping six threes in Tuesday's win over Ohio State. Purdue's defense on the perimeter isn't great, so those guys will have opportunities for success.
But again if Dakota Mathias, Carsen Edwards and PJ Thompson hit open looks from deep, this game will be over early. Purdue will undoubtedly win the rebound battle again and if the Boilers are also hitting shots, that's about all they'll need. With three road games in their four final, Purdue won't take this one lightly, especially knowing that Michigan State still needs that one great road win.
Our pick - Purdue by 10
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