Analyzing Purdue vs. Michigan State with Advanced Metrics

By: Jeff Bartl | February 8, 2018

A breakdown of the first-ever top-five meeting between the Boilermakers and Spartans using STATS research and KenPom’s advanced analytics powered by STATS’ college basketball data

Identifying an advantage for either team in a marquee matchup between national title contenders can be an exhausting task that often leads one to settle for the basics.

Fourth-ranked Michigan State hosts No. 3 Purdue on Saturday in the only clash of the season between the Big Ten juggernauts. We can give the Spartans the edge and point to the fact the Boilermakers haven’t beaten a top-five team in a true road game since winning at No. 3 Michigan on March 6, 1994, especially since Glenn Robinson isn’t suiting up this weekend to provide an impact.

It’s easy to counter that Purdue is 7-0 in true road games this season – and that the previous 24-plus years of Purdue basketball has no impact on this matchup. But then again, the quality of competition hasn’t been near what it’ll face against the Spartans. The basics only take you as far as a winding circle most of the time.

Enter STATS’ college basketball data, which exclusively powers the model behind KenPom.com, the most in-depth and respected advanced analytics website in the sport. STATS’ data API pumps information into Ken Pomeroy’s complex formulas that calculate the advanced metrics referenced by some of the best college basketball analysts in the country.

KenPom’s model gives Michigan State a 56 percent chance to beat Purdue and has a projected final score of 75-74 – essentially even with the Spartans’ home-court advantage throwing the overall edge their way. Let’s get into the data and break down the matchup further, shall we?

When Michigan State has the ball

Tom Izzo teams make a point of getting the ball across halfcourt quickly with strong outlet passes and attacking if the opportunity is there. Just as often, the Spartans gather themselves and run through an organized offense. Michigan State’s ranks 74th in the nation with an average time per possession of 16.4 seconds, and it is 194th with a 68.0 adjusted tempo, which measures the average amount of possessions per 40 minutes.

The Spartans wouldn’t earn an assist on 68.3 percent of made baskets – a percentage that is tops in the country – if they ran frivolously. And sophomore Cassius Winston is the floor general helping Michigan State rank 10th in offensive efficiency with 119.9 points per 100 possessions.

Winston’s 44.5 percent assist rate – assists divided by the number of field goals made by teammates while he’s on the floor – leads the Big Ten and ranks third in the country. He also averages a conference-best 7 assists per game while playing just 27 minutes. Winston’s 10.5 assists per 40 minutes lead the nation and are three more than second place – teammate Tum Tum Nairn, who averages 7.3 per 40.

Miles Bridges gets most of the scoring credit given his team-high 17.7 points per game. However, Winston’s 12.2 scoring average, a 52.5 shooting percentage from 3-point range that ranks second in the country, and a 65.4 effective field-goal percentage that is second best in the conference – combined with the aforementioned assist rates – show he can do it all. Winston’s 129.0 offensive rating, which factors in total possessions and points produced among many other variables within a complicated formula, leads the Big Ten among all players used on at least 20 percent of team possessions.

Cassius Winston is Michigan State’s floor general. (Graphics by Stephan van Niekerk)

And if Winston and the Spartans are having an off shooting night? Nick Ward leads the country with an 18.9 offensive rebounding percentage, which takes into account possible team offensive rebounds, minutes played and defensive rebounds allowed.

How do the Boilermakers counter the Spartans’ offensive efficiency? Purdue’s 94.7 adjust defensive efficiency – points allowed per 100 opponent possessions – ranks 13th nationally, and its 99.5 mark in Big Ten play is second in the conference. It also ranks seventh nationally holding opponents to 43.5 percent on two-point field goals and 10th in the country in effective field-goal percentage defense at 45.5.

Despite the Boilermakers’ 19-game winning streak ending with Wednesday’s 64-63 home loss to Ohio State, they finished with a 96.5 adjusted defensive efficiency. The problems arose mainly on offense, which was a surprise considering how well Purdue has performed on that side of the ball this season.

When Purdue has the ball

Purdue’s 12 turnovers in the loss to Ohio State are its most in nine games after combining for 11 over the two games prior. The Boilermakers had a 98.2 percent win probability with just over 10 minutes remaining, according to KenPom.

That advantage quickly dissipated, and Purdue’s 95.0 final offensive efficiency rating was only the 14th-best rating against Ohio State this season. Vincent Edwards went 1 for 9 on two-pointers, leading to a season-worst 72 offensive rating. Among Big Ten players with at least 24 percent of possessions used, Edwards’ 119.8 offensive rating is fifth, sandwiched between Ward and Bridges.

It was an unexpectedly poor offensive performance for the Boilermakers despite another solid effort from Carsen Edwards, who finished with a 148 offensive rating after scoring a career-high 28 points while going 8 of 13 from the field, 4 of 7 from deep and 8 of 9 from the line. Purdue ranks third in the nation in adjusted offense at 123.5, which is nearly 30 points better than Wednesday.

The scoreless performance from P.J. Thompson didn’t help. Thompson has the Big Ten’s highest offensive rating at 133.6, ranks third with a 63.7 effective field-goal percentage and sits fifth at 46.5 percent from 3-point range, but he went 0 for 5 against the Buckeyes with every shot coming from behind the arc.

Purdue should just chalk it up as one tough performance and move on quickly. Michigan State’s two-point percentage defense ranks first in the nation at 37.9, but it is 69th in 3-point percentage defense at 32.9. Purdue is second in the country shooting 42.7 percent from 3-point range, and its 38.4 percent of total points coming from the 3 in conference play is the most in the Big Ten.

Also, the Spartans beat Iowa 96-93 on Tuesday, but it wasn’t anywhere near pretty. It’s the most points they’ve allowed in a regulation game since losing 98-63 to North Carolina on Dec. 3, 2008, at Ford Field. Iowa’s 124.2 offensive rating makes it the most efficient game a team has played on offense against MSU this season. The Hawkeyes are 12-14 overall, 3-10 in the conference and lost by 23 to Purdue on Jan. 20.

Intangibles

Saturday will boil down to which team can expose the other’s weaknesses more during an important game for the Big Ten title race – and it likely will be decided outside the paint.

Michigan State freshman phenom Jaren Jackson Jr. ranks second in the Big Ten with a 15.44 block percentage, with Purdue’s Matt Haarms not far behind at 14.77. The best bet for either team is to get them back to the bench quickly. Jackson’s 5.72 fouls committed for 40 minutes is the worst rate in the conference, and Haarms also is towards the bottom at 5.36.

The advanced metrics show two evenly matched teams going through struggles in different aspects of their games. Michigan State has the slight advantage after running the numbers.