Preview: #11 Ohio State at #5 Michigan State

By Joe Beale on March 3, 2012 at 5:11p
"I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned, or see you hang in Fort Smith at Judge Parker's convenience. Which'll it be?"This man had the right attitude.
Ohio State Buckeyes #11 Ohio State 24-6, 12-5 Big Ten Roster | Schedule 4:00 PM ET - CBS —— The Breslin Center East Lansing, MI Michigan State Spartans #5 Michigan State 24-6, 13-4 Big Ten Roster | Schedule

Their backs are up against the wall. The chips are down. This one is for all the marbles. Choose your favorite sports cliché; they all apply.

Today Ohio State travels to East Lansing for a showdown that pretty much defines the term. And since the team lately has had a tremendous struggle trying to win on weekends, I thought they might need a little inspiration from a guy who knows a little something about showdowns. 

In the classic 1969 Western film True Grit, Marshall Rooster Cogburn, played by the icon of all Hollywood icons John Wayne, faced down Lucky Ned Pepper's gang with an attitude that epitomized the film's title. And when the villians would not yield, he took the reins in his mouth and charged at them shooting a pistol in his left hand and a rifle in his right. Evil was vanquished, good triumphed, and justice prevailed.

Today, the Buckeyes will need to have that same kind of spirit as they face down Lucky Tom Izzo and his gang in hostile territory with the Big Ten regular season title on the line. Win, and you share the title and go into the tournament knowing you beat the best of the rest on their floor and have nothing to fear. Lose, and they walk away with the title undisputed and a season sweep that will leave you wounded and once again questioning yourself entering the post-season. 

4 A. Craft SO 6-2/190 8.6 2.9 4.5 G 11 K. Appling SO 6-1/190 11.5 3.0 3.8
32 L. Smith Jr. SO 6-4/205 6.0 4.6 2.2 G 13 A. Thornton SR 6-5/205 5.2 3.3 1.1
44 W. Buford SR 6-6/220 14.8 4.9 3.0 F 22 B. Dawson FR 6-6/220 8.5 4.6 1.0
1 D. Thomas SO 6-7/225 15.2 4.9 0.9 F 23 D. Green SR 6-7/230 16.1 10.2 3.6
0 J. Sullinger SO 6-9/265 17.0 9.3 1.1 C 5 A. Payne SO 6-10/240 6.6 4.0 0.3


Michigan State has clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, but they are coming off a 70-55 loss at Indiana in which they barely played defense and were limited to one scoring option on offense. Pete Rossman from MSU blog The Only Colors had this to say

I'm not going to sugarcoat it -- this game was possibly the worst MSU performance of the year.

The Hoosiers had balanced scoring, 5 players in double-figures, while Michigan State had Draymond Green's 29 points and no one else with more than 8. IU's Victor Oladipo drove the lane endlessly and effortlessly. Inside scorers Cody Zeller and Christian Watford contributed 28 points and had only 3 fouls between them. Besides all that, they outrebounded the Spartans, which almost never happens. 

All of this is to say that Michigan State might just now be entering a slump similar to the one OSU has been mired in for the past 6 games. While Sparty had won 7 straight before the debacle in Bloomington, prior to that they had lost 3 of 5 including a humiliating 81-74 loss at Northwestern. This MSU team is not a world-beater; they have serious flaws that can be exploited by any team that is on top of its game.

For one thing, the turnover bugaboo has popped up again. After turning it over only 5 times in their win at Minnesota, the Spartans have logged 29 turnovers in their last two games. Senior star Draymond Green by himself has turned it over 12 times in the last 3 games, against 7 assists. PG Keith Appling has also caught the bug, logging 8 turnovers against 7 assists in his last two games. Teams have caught on to the fact that MSU plays a very big line-up, one that is not conducive to crisp ball movement.

It is possible that the loss to IU was an anomaly, and Izzo will have them back up to their 'A' game for senior day against the Buckeyes. Ohio State formerly was the highest ranked team in the league, and that seemed to bring out the best in all of their opponents. To be sure, the crowd will be fired up and raucous today. Will it be enough of a motivation, combined with Green's final game at Breslin, to lift the team out of the wreckage of Tuesday night and triumph over OSU? We'll see.

Buckeye Breakdown:

A lot of what I said in the preview for the first match-up still applies, especially this part: 

I expect this to be a rough-and-tumble game, with lots of pushing and shoving and maybe a few tempers flaring.

"I'd say that's bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!"Ned Pepper and the gang are waiting.

OSU lost more than their temper in the first game vs. MSU: they lost their entire offensive concept. The frequent fouling by the Spartans (OSU shot 22 free throws) led to Buckeye players expecting a foul call on every contact. After a while, a team in this situation gets a sense of entitlement, as if they are going to get every call on a shot attempt and need make no serious attempt to make the shot.

As a result of such an attitude, poorly composed shots clang harmlessly off the rim and when the expected foul does not materialize the player wastes time arguing the call when he should be getting back on defense. This gives the other team an advantage in transition and in concentration as their opponent is still distracted by the non-call. 

In order to make sure this does not happen, the Ohio State players need to stay focused on running their sets and getting open shots. This is a team with a lot of good ball-handlers (in contrast with Sparty) and they can afford to be selective with shots. Good ball movement, going inside-outside and swinging from side to side, will result in open shots that are much easier to hit than contested ones. 

Speaking of hitting open shots, lately Aaron Craft has been getting into a good offensive groove. He was one of the few standouts against the Spartans in the last game, making 8/8 from the stripe and finishing with 15 points. In his last three games, Craft has hit 15/22 shots including 6/8 from distance, for an average of 12.6 points per game in that span. As a result, he has raised his season shooting percentage to over 50% and his 3-point percentage is now over 40%. 

So one key for the Buckeyes today will be for Craft to look more for his shot rather than leaving the perimeter work to the likes of Buford and Smith. This will open up the inside, allowing more looks for Jared Sullinger. Even with the recent slump, Sully is still shooting 55% for the season, and this means that he probably should be shooting a lot more. Using Buford as a decoy and getting more shots for Craft, Sullinger, and Thomas (shooting 53% on the season) will be important today. If OSU gets off more than 50 shots today and Buford has less than 10 of them, I say they win.


  • Michigan State leads the all-time series 59-51 and is 36-16 in East Lansing. When ranked, Ohio State is 19-9 vs. Michigan State. The Spartans are 16-6 when ranked vs. the Buckeyes. 
  • Getting even on the road against a top-5 conference foe after losing to them at home earlier in the season is not unprecedented in college basketball this season. In fact, it happened yesterday.
  • CBS has the broadcast again today, but this time Verne Lundquist will be the play-by-play announcer while Buckeye legend Clark Kellogg handles commentary. The last time this pair worked an OSU game, the Buckeyes crushed Indiana to get revenge for a previous loss. Game on, Sparty.

Comments Show All Comments

baddogmaine's picture

Doug Lesmerises (Cleveland Plain Dealer) thinks the Buckeyes' problem is chemistry. I'm not buying it. Smith is a role player who will do whatever is asked of him. Sullinger and Craft both got along great with everyone last year, and both have roles they are happy with. If there is a chemistry issue it is with the "shooters," and as a senior who knows that looking bad his senior year will not help his draft stock Buford would probably be willing to make adjustments he thought would help himself and the team. So is Thomas the problem?

I continue to believe that the real issue is coaching - Matta continuing to try to get round players to run a square game plan - while not doing enough early in the year when it was possible to develop more players of any kind. Regardless, in March we are what we are. And that is a team hoping that shots drop and not really having a Plan B.

I saw Indiana do two things against Sparty the Buckeyes could do without having to change their character much, that I think need to be done. One is not driving into waiting coverage around the rim, resulting in blocked and forced shots, but stopping just inside the foul line and taking the 8-10 foot jumpers. That is the soft spot in zones and defenses geared to smothering a center. Buckeyes overdrive way too much.

The other is running more clock. When the Hoosiers got up even when they had breaks they did not shoot quickly unless it was very high percentage but pulled it out and set up good shots. We blew a lead against Northwstern by cntinuing to rush. Northwestern may be beter than usual but are no Mchigan State. What OSU is lacking is not just chemistry, if it is lacking that at all - it is lacking patience. This doesn't mean going to a full slowdown (which I think would actually benefit this roster) but playing more intelligently, less selfishly.

Lesmerises is picking the Buckeyes. I'm not sure how that will happen given our quality of play over the last month but that's why they play the games.

Joe Beale's picture

Matta continuing to try to get round players to run a square game plan

I think this makes sense if you think about the bench especially. The roster seems to have a lot of long-limbed guys who can play defense but are not half-court offense players. Would it not make sense to do more to force the tempo, to take advantage of the depth and the long arms by running more press packages and taking advantage of transition opportunities? Just a thought.

Rather_Be_Golfing's picture

I have said that all year.  It is too late now to go that route.  Think Kentucky with they played 94feet defense and no player averaged more than 24 minutes a game and they won it all under Pitino.  That is where we could have been with our depth.  If you force tempo and play defense, your athletes will prevail provided you have a couple of go-to players.  Which OSU does (Sully and Thomas).  Oh well.




slippy's picture

Sorry dude, I think you're wrong about blowing the lead against NW.  We blew that lead because they slowed it down too much.  Craft pulled out of a fast break with over 4 minutes left to start it, and they kept slowing down.  This led to forced shots with little time left on the shot clock and couldn't hit anything because of the terrible shot selection.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

This Buckeye team does better if they run, run, run on offense. Not sure Sully can keep up with a demanding pace tho. This also plays into all the athletes on the bench for lobbed up dunks which might cause DJ to actually watch on a consistent basis. Watching UNC destroy a rested Duke in Duke's house should put the OSU Duke win in perspective. Matta has my faith because this is the best Buckeye Basketball I've been afforded the opportunity to watch. Maybe I should question it more, but I don't want to seem like I don't appreciate what he has done for this program.

Joe Beale's picture

Haha...I'm sure DJ will appreciate you thinking about him.

Urban Ohio's picture

You are right, Slippy. I don't know what game Bad was watching, but when we were running our offense we were in control. When Craft held the ball at half court and let the shot clock get under 10 sec. before starting the offense, NW got back in the game.

Newcomerstown Trojans between Woody and Beaver.

baddogmaine's picture

In the first half the Buckeyes took 27 shots. In the second they took 31. Northwestern scored 44 points in the second half. These nmbers do not point to either team slowing it down in the second half.

RecruitBuck's picture

Valentine is officiating. We will lose.

TLB's picture

I hope he isnt working our game, look at his schedule of late, 10 of 12 days, not really close cities.

I would expect Kitts and Hightower.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

Geez. I want this fixed so bad.

RBuck's picture

Heard on 610 this morning that Hightower is one of them. I can live with this clown's theatrics as long as Kitts and/or Valentine aren't there.

Long live the southend.

osukdawg76's picture

The nightmare crew is Valentine, Hightower, and Burr.  If you get that trifecta of suck, you might as well start drinking now.

I, for one, welcome our new coaching overlords.



Joe Beale's picture

I'm old enough to remember the true nightmare crew of Jim Bain, Eric Harmon, and Jim Burr. In those days, Ed Hightower was regarded as one of the best. 

Buckeye Chuck's picture

Oh, man. Jim Bain in Bloomington was about as hopeless for the visiting team as it could get.

Having said that, I think Valentine takes too much heat on this site. It was one thing to blame the officials when the losses still seemed fluky, but we've been a pretty average team for a few weeks now, and that's not all bad calls or no-calls. At some point, you have to look at the way you're playing, and not a massive conspiracy to screw the conference's best program of recent years.

The most "loud mouth, disrespect" poster on 11W.

RecruitBuck's picture

It was reported last night that he was in East Lansing for the game.

TLB's picture

if he is, we are guaranteed a loss.  Since he is from the columbus area, he has a tendency to go overboard to not look like a tOSU homer.

TLB's picture

quick check shows he has done 4 of our B1G games.  We've lost 3.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

Love Clark calling games. Ran into him at an airport, real nice guy.

69Buckeye's picture

Buckeyes will win if they do not fall into the same type of game they started playing in the middle of the season. Early in the season was exemplified with great passing, fast breaks and secondary breaks. Somewhere in the middle of the season they started to walk the ball up the floor and offense stagnated. Defensively with m/m -a team is only as good as the weakest defenders. Purdue opened that can of worms with screens to take advantage of our weakest defenders. Slam dunks ensued. Good teams make things happen. For example, turnovers should result in fast break points often. Huge rebounding advantage should also create fast break or secondary break points. Against Northwestern we had a huge advantage in rebounding, yet often, rebounders rubbed the ball after a rebound. Not good enough! Full court pressing has been token ball denial and quick fall back since our slowest cannot cover. Some zone should be mixed in with man as Indiana chose to do. Freshman will be needed down the road. Zeller and Burke have played well as freshman. Kentucky plays a freshman lineup every year!

2014nationalchamps's picture

i think it is our shooting. It has been a long time since we havent had a 3 pt specialist ala Jon Diebler to open the floor.  We have no dead eye 3 pt specialist and this is hurting our offense. The college game can be changed at any time by a team that can hit the 3.

O-H-I-O  for life

M Man's picture




Matt's picture



M Man's picture

You really want to be careful where you proclaim your devotion to Penn State.

buckeyefan927's picture



There I fixed it :)

Urban Ohio's picture

Get that UGLY helmet out of here. Has to be one of the ugliest in sports.

Newcomerstown Trojans between Woody and Beaver.

Matt's picture


Is it Saturday Yet's picture

You should just switch sides and finally bring balance to the force.

GABuckeye's picture

Who cares about the refs.... who cares how bad they've played...  they are still going for the Big Ten Championship!! GO BUCKEYES!!  The REAL season starts soon...

Urban Ohio's picture

Newcomerstown Trojans between Woody and Beaver.

pcon258's picture

i dont know why, but i feel like this game were gona see a different team than the last few weeks. i think the disdain from fans, press, coach, etc. will get them to go out and have an "us against the world" type mentality, which i think will be crucial. at this point in the season, gameplan and talent are pretty much unchanging, but mentality can change, and it hopefully will. 

buckeyechad's picture

maybe it being sullys birthday will help?

BuiltfortheNuthouse's picture

I think they will be flat out mad and relentless!

" I went for two cause I couldn't go for three." 
-woody Hayes 

SGTBuckeye83's picture

Can't wait to be absolutely DOMINATE in something again. After that Duke win this year I thought there was no way we aren't at least going to be playing in the championship. Now I will be suprised if we make it to the Elite. Oh well. Can't wait for football season anyway!

Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.

frozen buckeye's picture

odds against us ?  No problem:


"Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!"

--rooster cogburn

Rooster Buckburn's picture

Loving' that Duke picture like a boss!

Rooster Buckburn's picture

pretty much my fav thread ever on 11w ;)