Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
When: 1:00 p.m., EST, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021
TV/Radio: CBS/Spartan Sports Radio
Ohio State (13-4, 7-4): No. (Kenpom)
1 - Duane Washington (6’3” jr), CJ Walker (6’1” sr)
2 - Justin Ahrens (6’6” jr), Meechie Johnson (6’2” fr)
3 - Justice Sueing (6’7” jr), Eugene Brown (6’6” fr)
4 - EJ Liddell (6’7” so), Seth Towns (6’8” sr)
5 - Kyle Young (6’8” sr), Zed Key (6’8” fr)
This Ohio State team is not special, but it is solid all the way down, and solid on offense means balanced scoring, a couple of very good three-point shooters, a couple of go-to options, a solid defensive front-court, and a top-five offense in Kenpom’s ratings.
Chris Holtmann’s offense tests opposing defenses, probes and relocates, and increasingly, this season, hunts mismatches for Liddell. Speaking of Liddell, his emergence as an all-conference player has combined with Washington’s scoring and Young’s understated excellence to form a true trio that just wins games.
Defensively, this team can be attacked at just about every position — there are no game-changers on defense, where Ohio State’s block rate is average and the Buckeyes’ steal rate is putrid. Rather, Ohio State plays solid basketball and makes teams beat them. The Buckeyes are not a good passing team and they only have a couple of jump-shooters that should scare Tom Izzo (Ahrens, Washington, and Towns), so sending help late should be an effective strategy.
EJ Liddell - averaging 15 points and seven rebounds per game, Liddell is the dual-hub of the offense with Washington, and he is a match-up nightmare for a lot of teams. A powerful, aggressive, ball-handling and savvy power forward.
Duane Washington - averaging 15 points, three rebounds, and three assists per game, Washington is Ohio State’s game-breaker. He can get hot and win games with his shot-making, and he has real moxie. Not a guy to allow to get rolling.
Kyle Young - averaging eight points, six rebounds, and an assist per game, it is Young who plays as the brains and the connector of the defense and offense. He and Key form the undersized center duo for the Buckeyes and attack the glass, compete in the paint, and play aggressively toward the rim.
Justin Ahrens - averaging seven points and shooting better than 50 percent from three-point range, Ahrens is the guy on the perimeter that the Spartans cannot lose. He is a bit limited outside of his shooting, but he will happily end the Spartans’ season if they let him. He is the brother of former Spartan, Kyle Ahrens
Shut down these four individual matchups and Michigan State wins the game. This is a game where Joey Hauser and Thomas Kithier should have more success given the relative lack of size and quickness in the OSU front-court.
Aaron Henry can and should win, consistently against Washington on defense, and I think the plethora of options against Liddell should be enough to wear him down too. Look for the entire Spartan team to feel comfortable against the Buckeyes on the offensive end.
This is the moment for Izzo to begin the long march back to competency, aided by guys hitting more shots, and playing with desperation...finally. Setting the most important individuals on the team up for success will go a long way toward both of these occurring: do not play Kithier and Hauser together when possible, give Henry and Hauser more post-ups, and defend, rebound, and RUN. For as bad as the Spartans have been, this is a great matchup for a desperate team: no mammoth bigs, no lights-out ball-controlling guards, and a team whose success builds from being solid rather than playing spectacular ball on either end.
MSU 75 OSU 70