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Michigan State vs. Ohio State Preview -- The Anticlimax Has Arrived

Remember when some of us thought this game might decide the Big Ten a few months ago? That's definitely not the case anymore, but MSU can still get the #2 seed in the Big Ten Tourney with a win and Wisconsin loss.

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The end-of-season game between the Spartans and Buckeyes was highlighted as the game that could decide the Big Ten regular season when the schedule came out in August. It was then circled in pencil as a game that could matter when Ohio State began their slide in January, and finally erased of all meaning when Michigan State entered their tailspin last month. Still, this game has some meaning in the forms of momentum and Big Ten tournament seeding. The Buckeyes can get a first-round bye with a win against the Spartans as well as Nebraska and Iowa losses.

The Spartans can clinch the two seed with a win against the Buckeyes and a Wisconsin loss. Before you scoff at that, the difference between the #2 and #3 seeds this season means the difference between a game between one of Iowa/Nebraska/(t)OSU for the three seed, and Ilinois/Indiana/Minnesota for the two seed. I know which potential matchup I'd prefer, and it's not the former in that group.

As for the Buckeyes, 2014 has not treated them well. After their first loss of the season to Michigan State two months ago, they lost their next three games (Iowa, at Minnesota, at Nebraska). They then straightened course to go 7-2 in their next nine games, including wins at Wisconsin and at Iowa. However, the doldrums have reappeared for the Buckeyes, as their last two games have seen them lose to both Penn State and Indiana on the road.

So what's been the problem for Ohio State? It definitely hasn't been defense. The Buckeyes have the second-best defense in the NCAA, and they're top 20 in opponents' effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, and free throw/field goal rate.  However, the offense has only been sixth-best in Big Ten play, caused in part due to poor outside shooting (9th in Big Ten play in three-point percentage at 31.4%). However, if I had to choose a main culprit, it'd be their offensive rebounding. Ohio State only plays one player taller than 6'8" (the 6'10" Amir Williams), and their OR% of 26.1% is 9th in Big Ten play.

There are keys to this game, and you're getting three of them. Not the ones to the car though; Mom and I want to see you parallel park before we trust you with the PT Cruiser.

  • Rebounding the ball after you miss a shot can lead to more shots, which can potentially lead to more points. Although MSU didn't do a good job of defensive rebounding against the Hawkeyes on Thursday (Iowa got ~37% of its misses), the Spartans were very good getting their own misses (~36%). Since the Buckeyes are excellent at the other four factors of defense, Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne, and Denzel Valentine will all have to, as the kids say, get after it.
  • STOP FOULING, PLEASE. As I said earlier, Ohio State finds it difficult to score. However, one of the few aspects of offense that comes easy to the Scarlet and Gray is getting to the foul line. (t)OSU is the third-best team in Big Ten play in getting free throws, and while no Buckeye player makes over 80% of his foul shots, no player is under 64%.  The Spartans shouldn't make defense more difficult than it has to be, and should let the Buckeyes shoot.
  • It's going to be ugly - adjust play accordingly. The offense is going to look much worse against (t)OSU than it did against Iowa. That's to be expected. Thus, the threes and long twos probably will not fall as easily, and hopefully the Spartans can remember that and batter it inside. I don't care if it results in turnovers -- so long as Michigan State doesn't get isolated from the paint, I'll be happy.
One thing's for sure -- barring another games against (t)OSU in the Big Ten tournament, this is the last time we'll hear television announcers rave about Aaron Craft when he's playing against Michigan State. Regardless of the final score, we're already winners in that regard. Go Green, Go White, and let's keep the momentum going.