Purdue to face equals (or better) twice this week

Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter argues a call during the second half of a game against Indiana recently in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)

Now is not a time for Purdue men’s basketball fans to exactly feel comfortable.

The Boilermakers have won 19 consecutive games, so a sense of confidence is surely expected from all those within the nation’s third-ranked program, as well as those that cheer for it.

But comfortable? Not this week.

Purdue (23-2, 12-0 Big Ten) puts its league lead on the line twice this week, first on Wednesday when No. 14 Ohio State (20-5, 11-1) visits Mackey Arena (8:30 p.m., BTN).

“I mean it’s big,” Ohio State redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop said recently. “Right now, the top two teams in the Big Ten. This is going to be a big game for us and a statement to the Big Ten.”

There are a number of reasons for a touch of angst among the “Paint Crew” heading into this game, as well as the follow-up game Saturday (at Michigan State, 4 p.m., ESPN).

First of all, from a statistical standpoint, both the Buckeyes and Spartans are just as good as the Boilermakers. And to be frank, are better in many regards.

As good of a 3-point shooting team as the Boilermakers are (they rank first in the league), Michigan State (second) and Ohio State (fifth) aren’t far behind.

In addition, the Buckeyes are actually more accurate than Purdue overall, as they lead the conference in field goal percentage with Michigan State third overall.

Another critical area in which both Michigan State and Ohio State rank ahead of the Boilermakers is rebounding, which has been an issue for Purdue of late.

The Boilermakers have been outrebounded in six consecutive games, which doesn’t bode well for either of these games this week.

The Spartans and Buckeyes are the top two rebounding teams in the league and it isn’t even close in terms of margin.

“They’re really hard to deal with,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said recently of Michigan State. “It starts with tremendous physicality at all positions, not just one. When they sub, in particular defensively, they don’t really take a drop-off. They can continue to just keep coming with the physicality on the glass and the speed with which they play at on offense.

“Their depth is definitely a strength.”

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Ohio State outrebounds its opposition by 7.4 per game, while the Spartans have done so by 6.3 each night.

The third best team in that category (Purdue ranks 6th) is at 1.6 per game.

Even in terms of free throw shooting, an area that the Boilermakers have supreme confidence, both Ohio State and Michigan State are better.

However, the Boilermakers have to feel good about themselves in that they do have experience – and lots of it.

Purdue has six players in its rotation that are in their third or fourth season of college basketball.

“You’re dealing with a very, very veteran, experienced team,” Miller said of the Boilermakers recently, “who knows exactly what they’re doing. Nobody steps out of bounds in terms of their roles, rules, how they play.

“They’ve got a deal where they’ve got a group that’s really committed on both ends that’s really connected.”

Purdue does have more experience than either of their opponents this week, but not by much in the case of the Buckeyes.

Bates-Diop is in his fourth year at this level, while Ohio State plays five guys (including Bates-Diop) that are at least juniors.

That experience paid dividends in a recent 75-67 win over Illinois, a game in which the Buckeyes dug themselves a 15-point hole in the opening 9:09.

“I think it’s an experience thing between me (senior Jae-Sean Tate and graduate student Andrew Dakich),” Bates-Diop said. “You have a lot of older guys who have seen teams come back from being down 20. We know it’s a long game and obviously, if it’s not the last five minutes, we feel like we can come back at any point in the game.”

For Michigan State, it really plays just three upperclassmen significant minutes, but the Spartans’ younger players are definitely talented enough – particularly at home (Michigan State is 14-1 in East Lansing) – to win Saturday.

Miller’s team battled Purdue until the final minute recently, but he believes in the Boilermakers and doesn’t place any limitations on what they can achieve.

“To me, they’re the best team in college basketball right now,” Miller said. “If you look at how they can finish and their aspirations, everything is very accomplishable.

“They have a very veteran group, a chiseled group, they have chemistry. They understand what Purdue means on the front of their jersey, and I think they represent it well.”

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.