The Michigan State Spartans (23-7, 12-5) travel to Columbus to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes (22-8, 9-8) in the regular season finale before the Big Ten Tournament gets underway next Thursday. The game will tip off at 4:30 ET will be televised on CBS. In their first meeting this season, the Spartans held off a furious Buckeye comeback and prevailed in overtime 72-68.
Meet The Buckeyes
Of course, if you have watched college basketball at all over the last four years you have probably heard the name Aaron Craft. The Buckeyes’ gutsy point guard is playing his final home game Sunday, which will provide a lot of emotion for Ohio State. The 6-2 senior out of Findlay, OH comes in averaging 9.4 points per game, 4.5 assists per game, 3.5 rebounds per game as well as 2.5 steals per game, which is best in the Big Ten and tenth in the nation in that category. But what Craft brings to the Buckeyes goes well beyond the stat sheet. He has been an exceptional leader since he stepped foot on campus over four years ago.
The Buckeyes leading scorer is junior LaQuinton Ross, averaging 14.6 points per contest. Ross has a smooth game and can beat you from anywhere on the floor. At 6-8, he is a tough matchup for opposing teams because of his ability to shoot from deep. He comes in shooting right around 39% from 3. The only other Buckeye to average in double figures for scoring is senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. The lefty won’t wow you with anything that he does, but he can get it done from the outside or by driving to the rim. He is a good finisher in traffic and with so much experience under his belt, he doesn’t make a lot of bad decisions.
Ohio State brings plenty of experience to the table. Of their six players averaging over 20 minutes per game, four are juniors and two are seniors. Head Coach Thad Matta does an excellent job recruiting year in and year out, and his teams are always poised and experienced. This year’s club really excels on the defensive end of the floor. Ohio State is 7th in the nation in points per game allowed. They also bring in the top two players in the big ten in steals per game; Craft and Shannon Scott.
Keys For The Spartans
If the Spartans are going to leave Columbus with a victory, they better be prepared for a fired up Buckeyes squad. There is no doubt Ohio State will come out of the gate with tons of energy on their senior night. Their defense will be suffocating and it will be important the Spartans don’t let the Buckeyes get too big of a lead early. The first ten minutes will be very important. MSU must match the Buckeyes intensity level early.
In their previous matchup this season, Keith Appling got the best of Craft. Michigan State will need this to happen again Sunday. Both teams’ point guards make them click, and it will be the key matchup in this game. Appling appeared to find his rhythm in the Spartans last game; an 86-76 MSU victory over Iowa, where he had 12 points including 2 threes, which were his first two shots made from beyond the arc since returning from the wrist injury. Hopefully for the Spartans he will be able to sustain that good play Sunday.
As is always a key for the Spartans, they will need Gary Harris and Adreian Payne to light up the scoreboard. Harris and Payne are as good of an offensive duo as there is in the conference, and probably the country. The Buckeyes may put Craft on Harris like they did for some of the matchup in East Lansing earlier this season. If that is the case, Harris will have to continue to attack the rim anyway. MSU can’t afford for him to not be aggressive. As for Payne, look for him to get the best of Amir Williams as he did in East Lansing. Not playing 100%, Payne scored 18 points and brought down 6 rebounds in the first matchup of these two teams this year. Payne gives the Spartans a dynamic so few teams have; a great center. Not many guys can matchup with the 6-10 senior out of Dayton, OH and Amir Williams is no exception. Although Williams brings plenty of length, he doesn’t have the ability to guard Payne on the perimeter, and that is something you must be able to do to try to stop Payne. Look for a big day from the senior center.
Michigan State must also get out on the break and get some easy buckets. Ohio State is not a good defensive team; they are a great defensive team. If this game is played in the 50′s or low 60′s that favors the Buckeyes. The higher scoring this game becomes, the more likely a Spartan victory is because OSU does not have the fire power to score with Michigan State. The easiest way to score is shooting layups. The easiest way to get layups is in transition. The Spartans need to get out in transition and try to get this game into the 70′s and see if the Buckeyes can keep up.
Both the Buckeyes and Spartans are highly talented teams that have underachieved a little bit this season. This is a very good matchup because both teams are loaded with experience and have strong point guard play. It is sure to be a battle all afternoon that I predict will come down to the final few possessions. However I am giving the Buckeyes the leg up in this game because of the emotions of senior night. I think Aaron Craft will have his team ready to play in his final home game and Ohio State will win this one by a score of 62-59.