Here are five things we can glean from Michigan State’s impressive win over Big Ten rival Purdue on Saturday.
*Miles Bridges may be playing out of position, but it’s helping him develop other parts of his game
College basketball fans fell in love with the fire-breathing, rampaging, small-ball power forward version of Bridges as a freshman. That guy still exists, but Bridges’ role is completely different as a sophomore. Against Purdue, he played all 32 of his minutes at small forward – and considering Jaren Jackson’s lack of playing time, it’s not like he was flanked by shooting bigs.
Simply put, Bridges doesn’t have room to do the things he did as a freshman. The lane is clogged. But great players adapt — and Bridges absolutely torched the Boilermakers from the perimeter on Saturday.
The sophomore finished with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including a clutch go-ahead 3. Bridges scored almost all of his points on jump shots — tough jump shots. In fact, most coaches would cringe at the amount of deep 2s he attempted. But they went in, and that’s what matters.
With ❄️ in his veins...— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) February 10, 2018
Miles Bridges CALLED GAME.pic.twitter.com/3oisrSWwkX
Even if Bridges’ optimal positon is the four, he’s become a much better shooter and ball-handler — perhaps out of necessity. He could easily shift back to his freshman ways, but he’s more well-rounded now. If you didn’t watch Bridges and just looked at his numbers, you’d think he improved a normal amount between his freshman and sophomore years. The stats aren’t that much different.
But the style in which he’s putting up those numbers has changed drastically. Credit to Bridges for molding his game for the betterment of the team.
*Purdue’s shooters scare Tom Izzo more than Isaac Haas
Purdue is the ultimate ‘pick your poison’ offense. Double-team Haas in the post, and run the risk of leaving a 40-plus percent 3-point shooter wide open. Don’t double Haas, and risk getting, like, pulverized by a near 300-pounder right under the hoop. Neither option is tantalizing.
Izzo went with the latter, and that probably frustrated some Michigan State fans. Haas had a monster game, scoring 25 points in 27 minutes. He was an efficient 12-of-22 from the floor.
But Michigan State neutered Purdue’s 3-point shooting in the second half; the Boilermakers didn’t make a 3 in the final 20 minutes. Purdue averages 23 3-point takes and 10 3-point makes. It went 6-of-19 from distance against the Spartans. That’s a win in every facet – Purdue was less inclined to attempt 3s because Michigan State defenders were glued to the shooters. The ones the Boilermakers took often felt forced.Haas scored some easy baskets, but Gavin Schilling and Nick Ward generally made him work, often forcing the giant to catch the ball further away from the basket than he’s comfortable. Haas made several tough shots — he’s a beast.
It’s puzzling that Izzo never used Jackson on Haas. But Michigan State shut Purdue down in the second half, and the ‘don’t let shooters beat us’ strategy paid off.
*If Haas is Purdue’s most important player, Carsen Edwards is second
If there’s a knock on Purdue, it’s a lack of shot creators. The Boilermakers generate clean looks in two ways: Haas post-ups (where he can shoot or kick), or Edwards… doing stuff. He’s shifty, athletic and can stop on a dime and rise for a jumper. Edwards is one of the best off-the-dribble shooters in the Big Ten.
But he struggled against Michigan State, and that’s a big reason why the Boilermakers only scored 29 second half points. With Edwards scuffling, Purdue had no solution besides dumping the ball to Haas. It’s no coincidence that Haas was exhausted by the end of the game. P.J. Thompson, Dakota Mathias and Vince Edwards are outstanding role players, but they can’t consistently create offense. If Carsen is off, Purdue generally is, too. He finished 5-for-15 from the field.
Edwards is great offensive player. But he shoulders a heavy playmaking burden for the Boilers — perhaps too heavy.
*Michigan State can win big games without Jackson
The star freshman only played 12 minutes against Purdue, going 1-for-6 from the field. The Spartans’ second-best (or best, depending on who you ask) player was a non-factor, yet Sparty downed the No. 3 team in the country.The Spartans would like more from Jackson, but that’s a good sign. Schilling and Kenny Goins provided stout defense off of the bench, and Bridges took care of the scoring. It was perplexing as to why Jackson played so little — sure, he was ineffective to start the game, but you’d expect a guy like him to have earned some leeway.
Apparently not, but it didn’t come back to hurt Michigan State. The Spartans are good enough to beat great teams even if all of their stars don’t show up.
*It’s nice to have two quality point guards in the starting lineup
Purdue may have lost, but a three-point setback against the nation’s No. 4 team is nothing to be ashamed of. The Boilermakers easily could have won despite having a bad shooting night. Like Michigan State’s ability to win sans Jackson, that’s a good sign.
Part of the reason Purdue hung tough was because of ball security. The Boilermakers didn’t turn the ball over in the first half and only coughed it up three times in the second. Purdue would love for Thompson to be more of a shot-creator, but he’s a caretaker with a dynamite outside shot. Edwards’ game has some spice, but he’s still careful with the ball. Purdue optimizes possessions.
This performance shouldn’t cause anyone to lose confidence in Purdue. The Thompson-Edwards backcourt duo is better than anything it's had in years.