By TIM MARTIN
Associated Press Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. ( -- Michigan State is headed out on the most important road trip of its regular season.
The Spartans, hoping to stay in the race for the Big Ten title, play at first-place Purdue on Tuesday and second-place Indiana on Saturday. The two-game swing could determine whether Michigan State, now in fourth place, has a shot to win a piece of the regular season Big Ten crown for the first time since 2001.
Two wins put the Spartans right back in the mix for the conference crown and in control of their own destiny. A split keeps them alive, but needing some help from other teams.
Two losses and Michigan State likely can forget about the title despite its status as preseason favorite.
"You know and I know it's going to be tough to win the Big Ten," coach Tom Izzo said at his weekly press conference Monday. "But we still have a chance. It's in our control."
Michigan State (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten) climbed one spot to No. 10 in this week's Associated Press poll. But in the conference standings, the Spartans still are looking up at No. 19 Purdue (19-5, 10-1) and No. 13 Indiana (20-3, 9-1).
The Boilermakers have been the Big Ten's biggest surprise, sparked by a freshman class that includes E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel. Purdue's latest big win came at Wisconsin on Saturday night, dropping the No. 15 Badgers (19-4, 9-2) to third place in the conference.
Purdue has won nine straight games since losing 78-75 to Michigan State in East Lansing on Jan. 8.
Izzo said the Boilermakers may be the most physical team in the Big Ten. They were Izzo's sleeper pick in the conference before the season started.
Purdue is not a great rebounding team, but leads the Big Ten in turnover margin with a solid defense.
"It's bump. It's move. It's grind," Izzo said of Purdue's approach.
Indiana has one of the conference's most dynamic freshmen in Eric Gordon and a conference player of the year candidate in senior D.J. White. The Hoosiers are coming off a week with big road wins at Illinois and Ohio State.
Michigan State has some solid freshmen of its own in guards Kalin Lucas and Chris Allen. But it will be more experienced players, especially senior guard Drew Neitzel, sophomore forward Raymar Morgan and junior forward Goran Suton, who will be counted on to come through on the road.
Lucas missed Sunday's practice with a knee injury but is expected to play Tuesday.
The Spartans at times have struggled away from East Lansing, losing at Iowa and Penn State -- two teams with losing records. In both games, the Spartans faced a huge disparity at the foul line.
Izzo still is upset about both losses.
"We have to do our job," Izzo said. "We have to try to go on the road and get one back."