Three Key Takeaways.
- Michigan State’s front line was up the challenge. In Purdue’s blowout victories over Illinois and Michigan this weekend its massive trio of AJ Hammons, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas combined for 67 points (on 36-of-55 FG) and 44 rebounds. Hammons was especially dominant, pouring in 27 points against the Wolverines and looking altogether unstoppable within 10 feet. On Sunday, it was a different story. The Spartans threw every big body they could at the Boilermakers – including seldom-used senior Colby Wollenman – and never allowed Purdue’s lethal frontcourt to take over. All told, Matt Costello, Deyonta Davis, Gavin Schilling and Wollenman held the three-headed monster to just 26 points on 10-of-25 shooting, which – combined with the Boilermakers’ ugly performance from behind the arc (3-of-15 3FG) – proved to be the difference. Costello was especially great, bodying up Hammons each time down the floor and coming up with several huge blocks to seal the victory.
- Denzel Valentine is special in late-game situations. Between his ability to handle the ball, make quick decisions and knock down big shots, Denzel Valentine gives Michigan State something few other teams have: a steady hand in late-game situations. That asset was on full display Sunday, with Valentine knocking down an impossible double-clutch jumper with just under two minutes to play, then securing a pair of big rebounds to ice the victory. Even his ability to take the ball up the floor without making careless mistakes – to force the opposition to foul – cannot be overlooked. On its quest for another Final Four, Michigan State will surely face a few more close, taut games likes the ones it played against Maryland and Purdue this weekend. Having a late-game conductor like Valentine could wind up being the difference between a very good season and a banner-worthy, great one.
- Despite the loss, Purdue is playing its best basketball. Make no mistake – Purdue is still in excellent shape heading into the NCAA Tournament. If not for some very poor outside shooting (3-of-15 3FG), the Boilermakers – backed by an enormous home crowd in Bankers Life Fieldhouse – would probably be the Big Ten Tournament champions. Not only is AJ Hammons playing his best basketball of the season, but Matt Painter’s club is consistently earning trips to the free throw line (39 attempts against Michigan and Michigan State combined). Purdue was also superb on the defensive end this weekend, holding both Illinois and the Wolverines to well below one point per possession, and nearly doing the same against the explosive Spartans. With a top 25 national ranking in both offensive and defensive efficiency, along with one of the best frontcourts in the country, the Boilermakers should be a real threat to reach Houston.