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Michigan State-Ohio State Preview with Eleven Warriors

Earlier in the week I did a question and answer session with Elika from Eleven Warriors, the results of which can be found here. In return, Chris from Eleven Warriors was kind enough to answer some questions about the Buckeyes for me, which can be found below.

- OSU's defense is rated the best in the nation by KenPom. What have been the causes for improvement in the past year?

The defense was pretty good last year as well so there really hasn't been a huge standout reason why the defense is rated so highly. Obviously, it all starts with Aaron Craft. The kid may be the best on-ball defender in the country and his ability to disrupt the flow of the opposing offense has been crucial to Ohio State's success.

Lenzelle Smith has been a pleasant surprise this year and seems to grow with each game. He's an excellent rebounder from the two guard spot averaging 4.7 rips while playing just 23 minutes per game.

Another factor in the defensive equation is that Thad Matta has used his bench significantly more than we've seen in previous years. Not only does this afford the starters a chance to be fresher at the defensive end, it has created a mentality for the reserves that if they want to see the floor, they better go balls to the wall on defense.

Sam Thompson has made the most of his opportunity off the pine showing a decent ability to defend and as a 6'7" wing, he can alter some shots playing help side defense.

- We all know how good Sullinger, Craft, and Buford are. Tell us a little more about the basketball stylings of Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith.

Thomas is that guy who never met a shot he didn't like. He's definitely grown this year with his decision making at the offensive end but the kid definitely looks to score any chance he gets. The 6'7" sophomore is a lefty with a pretty strong midrange game complemented by a couple signature moves he uses effectively in the paint. He can be dangerously streaking from beyond the arc and he's a very impressive offensive rebounder. He's not going to win any defensive player of the year awards but he's been the second most consistent player behind Sullinger when it comes to offensive production.

As noted, Smith has been a nice surprise in a year when the Buckeyes were looking for a two guard to emerge. Smith earned the starting nod because he's an extremely poor man's David Lighty in that he's not afraid to get after it defensively and can rebound the rock while giving you streaky offense. He went for 28 in the home ass kicking delivered to The Whining Creans and had a spectacular 17 and 12 showing against Michigan in which he grabbed a ridiculous eight offensive boards. He's just a sophomore and considering he missed a large chunk of last season due to injury, intelligent Buckeye fans have to be thrilled with his emergence. I expect his offensive consistency will only grow over time.

- Have the Buckeyes missed Jon Diebler this season? Has his departure meant an increased focus on inside scoring?

There's no question the Buckeyes have missed Diebler this season. His ability to knock down threes was not only an obvious boost but just having him on the floor stretched the defense, opening the lane, even when he had an off night.

I contend Diebler's departure has had the most impact on William Buford whereas you'd typically assume losing a long range bomber would be more detrimental to the inside game (ie. Sully) since defenses could more willingly collapse when the ball enters the post.

While Sullinger has seen more than his fair share of double teams, his overall offensive impact hasn't really diminished while Buford has seen a significant decline in his offensive game. Too often, Buford has put too much pressure on himself to be the entire perimeter attack and the result has been an increase in poor shot selection and too much forcing the action leading to turnovers at inopportune times. I've long been a Buford apologist but his inconsistency seems to have ratcheted up a notch since Diebler graduated.

Now, Buford is still getting his points and is a damn good complimentary player but yes, more points are coming from the inside. Some of that is the absence of Diebler but some of it is attributed to the impressive offensive growth shown by Thomas, giving Sully a truly legit sidekick on the baseline.

- Announcers keep telling me that Craft's good at defense. I know that already, so tell me about a couple other OSU players to watch out for when MSU has the ball.

I touched on him earlier, but I really like how Smith is developing. I will say he's sometimes slow to rotate to open three point shooters but the kid is typically up to the challenge when it comes to working the glass from the perimeter.

What will be interesting in this game is how the Buckeyes try to contain Green. Thomas is the weakest link of the starting five defensively but is still more nimble on the perimeter than Sullinger plus I assume Thad plans to protect Sully from the potential foul trouble that could mount if forced to guard Green outside. As a result, we could see a little more of 6'8" reserve Evan Ravenel than we're used to.

- Matta has a tendency to keep a short bench. If there is a substitute or substitutes that could affect the game who is it/they?

I think I've kinda already touched on this in a few of the previous questions but Evan Ravenel and Sam Thompson are the reserves most likely to have a potential impact.

Thompson is young and his jumper is suspect but his raw athleticism if off the charts and he's capable of making plays that fire up the crowd and team which can be of huge importance in a game like this one.

Another guy would be Ravenel simply because of Sparty's size, relentlessness on the glass and the versatility of Green. If Thomas or Sully land in foul trouble, how Ravenel responds could be crucial.

- This is the part where I ask you for the obligatory keys to the game and prediction.

I guess I'll start with the glass. These are the two best teams in conference play when it comes to Rebounding Margin with MSU at +10.8 and OSU at +8.2 and whichever team wins the battle of the boards - especially the offensive glass - will likely go a long way in determining a winner.

Another key will the play of Buford. With the Big Three of Sully, Thomas and Buford have good nights this team is virtually impossible to beat especially at home. As discussed, Sully and Thomas have been pretty consistent while The WB has floundered at times. Buford had 23 in last season's lone matchup in The Schott and owns a 16.4 ppg mark over his career against Sparty. His play Saturday will go a long way in determining a winner.

As for a prediction, I definitely expect a tight game but I give the edge to OSU since they are the home team already sporting 39 straight W's in The Schott. Buckeyes by 4.

Thanks again to Chris. For all things Buckeye, head to Eleven Warriors or follow them on Twitter @elevenwarriors.