Following a 26-point drubbing of Northwestern on Wednesday, Michigan State (12-2, 3-0 B1G) has been playing its best basketball since a late-November overtime loss to Louisville. Since the loss, the eighth-ranked Spartans have been red hot, winning their last seven games by an average margin of victory of 20 points during that stretch.
MSU will travel to Columbus on Saturday to square off with a percolating Ohio State squad (12-1, 2-0 B1G), which has been on a roll of its own, having won each of its last six ballgames.
The last time these two teams met was nearly a year ago to the date, when Keita Bates-Diop and his career-high 32 points helped the unranked-Buckeyes pull a huge upset of the then-No. 1 ranked Spartans.
MSU is coming off one of their most complete performances of the year against Northwestern. Junior forward Nick Ward continued his All-Big Ten play, leading the team with 21 points. Four other Spartans found themselves in double figures, including redshirt junior Kyle Ahrens, who on Saturday will do battle with his brother Justin, who’s a freshman forward for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State finished the 2018 calendar year with an 18-point victory over High Point. C.J. Jackson poured in a team-high 20 points in the win, notching his third 20-point game of the season. The senior guard is second on the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game and needs just 216 points to become the Buckeyes’ next 1,000-point scorer.
Ward has been playing arguably his best basketball in a Spartan uniform, as he’s currently 14th in the country in field goal percentage, converting on 65.9 percent of his shots. Ward’s 16.4 points per game are second on the team and good for 12th in the Big Ten.
Ward is making a homecoming visit back to the state of Ohio and his play against OSU’s dominant big man Kaleb Wesson could decide Saturday’s contest.
The big 6-foot-9 sophomore is having a big year after averaging 10.2 points per outing a year ago during his freshman campaign. Wesson’s 16.5 points per game lead the Buckeyes and are good for ninth in the conference. Ohio’s “Mr. Basketball” in 2017, Wesson is shooting 54 percent from the floor and is coming off an efficient 17-point outing against High Point.
The Buckeyes aren’t as deep of a team as they’ve been in previous years. Six players average 20 minutes or more and two more play over 10 per game. Ohio State has just two double-figure scorers (Jackson and Wesson), but freshman guard Luther Muhammad, who’s averaging just a hair under 10 points a game, has provided valuable and productive minutes in the past couple of games.
Through three league games so far, Michigan State is a perfect three-for-three in double-digit victories. Saturday’s game will be a much tougher task, however, as Chris Holtmann, who’s in his second year in Columbus, has his team playing really well and looking like legitimate contenders for the Big Ten crown.
Ohio State has been the third-best team in the Big Ten in scoring defense this year, giving up just 61.9 points per game. The Buckeyes have given up 72 or more points just once this season, a number the Spartans’ offense has hit in all but one game this season. Michigan State, which prides itself as one of the most efficient transition offensive teams, will look to get out and run against an OSU defense which hasn't seen that kind of tempo very much this year.
While the conference season is still young, Saturday’s game features early league implications between two of the four remaining undefeated clubs in Big Ten play. It’ll be an early noon tipoff with Gus Johnson, Jim Jackson and Lisa Byington on the call for FOX.