USA TODAY Sports
RadioSpartan Sports Network
The Spartans have had plenty of time to let Tuesday's loss to No. 1 Indiana sink in, but it doesn't get any easier heading to Ohio State on Sunday.
The Spartans and Buckeyes may not be considered basketball rivals, but the matchups between these teams have been classics in recent years. In 2011, a struggling MSU team took the No. 2 Buckeyes to the end in Columbus before falling. In 2012, the Spartans downed No. 3 Ohio State in Columbus, ending their 39-game home winning streak.
The Buckeyes returned the favor in the regular season finale, handing MSU its first home loss of the season on a last-second shot by William Buford, preventing an outright Big Ten title for MSU. The teams met again in the Big Ten tournament championship, with MSU winning the back-and-forth affair to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But it was the Buckeyes who reached the Final Four.
Earlier this season, MSU edged out a 59-56 win (box score), so they've all been exciting in recent years.
The Bucks had been sliding a bit before their last game. After losing three of four (to Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin) and struggling in a home win against Northwestern, Ohio State pounded Minnesota 71-45. The Buckeyes had been around the top 10 in KenPom for most of the season, but their current ranking of No. 13 is the lowest this season.
Still, this remains a balanced and talented team. The Buckeyes are No. 15 in adjO. They shoot 36.5 percent on 3s (No. 58) and 49.4 percent on 2s (No. 88). They've done a good job holding onto the ball (17.0 TO%, No. 20), but it has jumped up to 18.4 percent in conference play (No. 8). Ohio State doesn't go a great job of getting to the line (34.0 FTR) and it's down to 30.4 percent in conference play.
The team offensive numbers are surprising when you look at the individual numbers. Only one player averages double figures: DeShaun Thomas (20.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 45 percent FG%, 27 usage%, No. 7 in KP POY). In the first meeting between these teams, Thomas scored half of OSU's points (28 pts, 10-for-20 shooting, 6-for-11 from 3). He was used at the power forward position and was a really tough matchup for Adreian Payne. Expect him to be used the same way.
Elsewhere, Lenzelle Smith Jr. averages 9.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists and defensive stopper Aaron Craft averages 9.2 points and 4.3 assists. In the first meeting, Craft went 2-for-8 shooting, as no Buckeye other than Thomas made more than two field goals. The options other than Thomas might not be great, but there are a number of them. Eight players average at least 17 minutes, while seven have a usage rate higher than 16 percent.
Will MSU let Thomas get his and try to stop everyone else? They did it in the first game and nearly lost. When Ohio State gets scoring from non-Thomas players, they're tough to beat. Thomas will certainly be a tough matchup for Payne, but Payne tends to play his best games against the Buckeyes in in Columbus.
Defensively, Ohio State is No. 19 in adjD and No. 2 in Big Ten play. Opponents shoot 32.7 percent on 3s (No. 127) and 43 percent on 2s (No. 37). Those percentages go up a little bit in conference play. The Bucks are average when it comes to forcing turnovers (20.6 percent).
Did I mention that Payne plays his best against the homestate Buckeyes? He had 14 on 5-for-6 shooting in the first matchup this season. In five games against Ohio State, Payne averages 11.8 points and 4.2 rebounds.
On the other hand, Keith Appling has struggled when matched up with Craft, but he did score 15 on 6-for-13 shooting in the first meeting this season. Appling is coming off a dreadful performance against Indiana, and you know he'll want to make up for it, but Craft is going to make that difficult.
Gary Harris scored eight points in the first meeting while going 0-for-2 from three. His driving to the basket has picked up in recent games, but they'll need his outside shooting, especially given the way Appling is struggling from deep. Branden Dawson had nine points and 10 rebounds in the first matchup, and he'll need to get back to form missing the last two games.
With Travis Trice back from injury, Denzel Valentine playing well and Matt Costello improving on the defensive end, MSU's depth isn't as much of an issue as it was. Appling is dealing with fatigue, so having the next three games over a 16-day span should help, as well as Trice and Valentine. Maybe we'll see some of Appling at the two guard.
With Thomas likely playing the power forward position, MSU's offense has to go inside out to Nix and Payne first. Amir Williams may not do much, but he can block shots (10.6 block%). Nix will have to play stronger than he did against Indiana.
On the glass, Ohio State grabs a third of its misses, but that's down to just 29.5 percent in conference play (No. 10). They do a better job on the defensive end (27.9 percent on the season, 29.2 percent in conference play). In the first meeting, MSU grabbed 34.5 percent of its misses, while Ohio State was at just 20 percent. That's going to have to happen again for the Spartans.
If MSU wants a share of the Big Ten title, they're probably going to have to win out at least and hope Indiana loses. If they want to stay in contention for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, they'll probably have to at least split these next two road games (at Michigan is next).
KenPom predicts a 66-63 win for Ohio State, giving MSU just a 37 percent chance of winning. On the podcast before the Indiana game, I said this game at OSU might be the easiest of the next four games. Obviously KP doesn't agree. We shall see.
(I'll also be curious to see if OSU fans sing "We don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan. I can't recall them using it much for MSU).