Preview: #12 Michigan State at #3 Ohio State

By Joe Beale on February 11, 2012 at 6:00a
"It's mine, all mine!!!"Green is making his case for B1G POY honors.
Ohio State Buckeyes #3 Ohio State 21-3, 9-2 Big Ten Roster | Schedule 6:00 PM ET - ESPN —— The Schott Columbus, OH Michigan State Spartans #12 Michigan State 19-5, 8-3 Big Ten Roster | Schedule

Tonight the eyes of the nation (and especially of Big Ten fans) will be focused on Columbus as Thad Matta's Buckeyes welcome the 12th ranked Spartans of Michigan State. The showdown of the 1st and 2nd place teams in the Big Ten has been much anticipated, including by the players involved. Both Ohio State and Michigan State appeared to be looking ahead to this game when they played lesser opponents earlier in the week. 

For the Buckeyes, the game is important because a win puts them two games up on their nearest competitor, and also because they have to go on the road for their next two games. Going out on a winning note will give the young team confidence as they face hostile environments in Minnesota and Michigan. Also, they have to play MSU again in the regular season finale in East Lansing, and it would be good to have a 2-game cushion before playing that game. 

For Michigan State, a win would propel them into first place in the conference before they head home to host Wisconsin. If they get past the Buckeyes and the Badgers, they would have the inside track on a regular season conference championship, which would give them a number 1 seed in the B1G tourney. It's not a must-win for MSU, but they would dearly love to steal a victory in Columbus before hosting the Buckeyes in the season finale.

4 A. Craft SO 6-2/190 8.1 3.0 4.8 G 11 K. Appling SO 6-1/190 11.8 3.3 3.9
32 L. Smith Jr. SO 6-4/205 6.3 4.7 2.0 G 13 A. Thornton SR 6-5/205 4.5 3.5 1.1
44 W. Buford SR 6-6/220 15.5 4.8 3.1 F 22 B. Dawson FR 6-6/220 8.9 4.7 1.1
1 D. Thomas SO 6-7/225 14.6 4.5 0.9 F 23 D. Green SR 6-7/230 15.2 10.6 3.6
0 J. Sullinger SO 6-9/265 17.4 9.0 1.0 C 5 A. Payne SO 6-10/240 7.0 4.1 0.3


Draymond Green came to Michigan State already advanced in rebounding but understanding that he would have to improve his shooting range. Having worked hard over the years to extend it, he is now a threat to score from beyond the arc just as much as in the paint. Last season he led the Spartans in both rebounds and assists, and this season is the scoring and rebounding leader while still dishing out 3.6 assists per game (just behind Keith Appling's 3.9 for best on the team). The senior is not only a strong presence on the court, but is also an emotional leader off the court. 

Beyond Green, the Spartans tend to spread the wealth quite a bit. Appling is the only other teammate who averages double-figure points, while no one else on the team gets half as many rebounds as Green. Tom Izzo likes to use a lot of players; there are 8 Spartan players who average more than 17 minutes per game, and there are another 3 who average at least 5.6 minutes per game. 

Michigan State also has a few big bodies, and you can expect to see them banging on Jared Sullinger for much of the game. Green is 230 pounds, center Adreian Payne goes 240, and reserve center Derrick Nix tips the scales at 270. This kind of bulk in the middle will make it difficult for Sullinger to get position in the low post. As a result, I expect to see OSU move the ball around a bit more than normal and look for open shots rather than just dumping it down to Jared every time down. 

The Spartans have been turnover-prone at times this season, and they average 14 per game. When they get a chance to shoot, they do it well, as they are hitting almost 48% from the field on the season. Besides Appling, there are very few players in the main rotation who have the ability to drive in the lane and dish out assists, which makes it imperative that the sophomore not get into foul trouble. MSU is not a huge 3-point team, but there are some players who can hurt you from out there so OSU will need to be careful when they're double-teaming in the post. 

What the Spartans are mostly known for is rebounding. They average over 40 rebounds per game, almost a third of them on the offensive glass. The big bodies of Green, Payne, and Nix make the Spartans a tough group inside, and not giving up second shots helps their defense quite a bit. OSU will need to avoid quick shots if they want to keep Michigan State from launching rapidly into transition opportunities. 

Buckeye Breakdown:

Obviously, Ohio State will want to play better defense than what we saw from them on Tuesday night. Tom Izzo's teams are always well-disciplined and prepared. They will certainly see on the film how OSU struggles against ball screens, especially when the screener is guarded by Sullinger. The surest way to have success against OSU's suffocating pressure is to attack with lots of pick-and-roll plays similar to what Kansas did against them. Otherwise, Ohio State has been very solid on defense for most of the season, and it has been a hallmark of their succes.

AP Photo/Terry GilliamEnd of the slump or just one good game?

Most teams will not be able to make as many 3-pointers as Purdue did on Tuesday, but MSU can hurt you from distance if they get open looks consistently. More likely, they will exploit mismatches with large bodies like Green and Nix and use lots of penetration from Appling to set them up. Pick and roll, low-post direct entry, and high-low will probably be the order of the day for MSU. 

On offense, Ohio State established Jared Sullinger early against Wisconsin and attempted to do the same against Purdue, but ran into foul trouble. Sullinger averages only 28.6 minutes per game, some of which is due to the injuries he suffered early in the season and some of it to fouls. One goal for Thad Matta will be to coach Sully on how to avoid cheap fouls and get the most of his hacks in the lane. If a guy has an uncontested layup and you cannot block it, then it's good to foul. But trying to take a charge from 20 feet or so is a bad idea.

William Buford appeared to come out of his slump just in the nick of time, at a moment when his team needed him most. My suspicion is that the coaches told him to focus on the things he does well (shots from a set position and drives to the hoop) and not attempt so many mid-range jumpers on the move. I believe that better shot selection will help Buford to maintain his consistency and build his confidence in the run up to the tourney. His scoring is desperately needed and I do not think OSU can advance very far in the NCAA's without it. 

I expect this to be a rough-and-tumble game, with lots of pushing and shoving and maybe a few tempers flaring. The tempo will most likely be slow, and the few rebounds that become available will be highly coveted. I'm not sure how to call this one but the advantage has to go to the home team, and so I expect the Buckeyes to win, but I believe it will come down to the very end. It would not surprise me to see overtime or a winning shot in the last minute. Should be fun.


  • Ohio State leads the nation in wins vs. opponents ranked in the Top 25 with five victories in seven tries this season.
  • For the 3rd game in a row, the broadcast team for the game will be Dave O'Brien (play-by-play) and Dan Dakich (analysis).

Comments Show All Comments

baddogmaine's picture

When your best scoring hreat is your center *how* to defend is pretty basic - collapse inside with help. Especially if OSU has 2 or, even worse, 3 guys on the floor who are not scoriong threats MSU will have an easier time getting help on Sully. This doesn't mean it will work but it's no mystery what Izzo will do. They can't sluff off of Craft because he'll drive on them but if for some reason any of the Big Three has to sit Smith has to be ready and able to score.

The real matchup problem is ours - how to guard the mobile Green. Sticking Thomas on him straight-up seems like a recipe for disaster, an invitation for Draymomnd to get 25 or more. So probably the task will go to Buford who matches up pretty well in size and is experienced enough that he shoudn't get fooled. Though Thomas on the improving Dawson is no clear win for us either. Anyway, how we body up with the Spartans will be a good indication of how we are likely to do against bigger, more atheltic teams we are likely to see in March.

This will also be a good test of how well our lack of reliable bench will work for us. MSU does go 8 deep, meaning that they have more fouls to give. If they play a physical game (they always do) and the refs call it tight we may end up with foul problems that solve a lot of MSU's problems for them. As much as any game we have had so far we can not get into foul trouble.

I completely agree that Buford has to score, because given our "rotation" we might not have enough points to beat a team like MSU without WB. If Buford struggles what Mata does will probably tell us how far we are going to go in March - sinking or swimming with WB sunk us last year.

RBuck's picture

Have to agree with you about the matchup with Green. WB has a better chance of limiting him some on the outside but Thomas might be able to keep him off the boards better. Thad's got a descision to make make and I would not be surprised to see him try different matchups.

Long live the southend.

baddogmaine's picture

We'll find out in a few hours, now it's just fun to guess. Other than zoning, which Matta does not like to do, what is the matchup that might work? Can't put Sullinger on him - that opens the inside too much and Sully will foul out trying to defend the perimiter. Smith gives away inches anbd pounds and Green will exploit it. Of the guys who have come off the bench Ravenel seems the best option in size and experience, but who sits for him? Probably have to be Smith, otherwise our offense loses too much. And Evan has been foul prone (about 2 fouls in 12 minutes) and isn't used to playing long minutes this year. This may be why the Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises, who follows the Buckeyes more closely than do the big networks,  is picking the Spartans.

johnblairgobucks's picture

Who's announcing the game for ESPN?  Hopefully D!ck Vitalle(sp?) isn't in Columbus, because I'd hate to listen to him slober on Izzo and Green for 2 hours. 

Joe Beale's picture

Perhaps you missed my second "Etc." note? ;)

johnblairgobucks's picture

Did miss that.  Hate to be a whiner, but Dan Dick-itch is a blowhard.

Joe Beale's picture

Interesting fact I just discovered: Michigan State is #4 in ESPN's new BPI rating (their answer to the RPI), right behind Ohio State at #3.

thatlillefty's picture

Looking forward to this one... lesssgo bucks!

ih8rolltyde's picture

Dan dackich or however you spell it is the best analyst in college ball these days.imo.

****igan smells like old water that hot dogs were boiled in.  FACT

thatlillefty's picture

found him kind of annoying at first but he's grown on me

johnblairgobucks's picture

really?  I'm up to re-evaluate the dude, but he seems to master the obvious well.

VestedInterest's picture

He sure ain't no Gus Johnson...

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I can't remember names, but I think the expn analyst I like - who I think is underrated - is Stephen Bardo. If that's the right guy, he has a good basketball acumen without trying to sound like the smartest coach in the room, which is what Dakich does at times.  

Chris Lauderback's picture

Both Mike Kitts AND Ted Valentine are in the house. Sweet. 

BuddhaBuck's picture

Explains everything.

Don't text while driving.

Urban Ohio's picture

Is Bollman calling offensive plays?

Newcomerstown Trojans between Woody and Beaver.