Michigan St.-Ohio St. Preview

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has been through this all

before.

Big weekend in the Big Ten. Big game against a big opponent.

On and on.

So, you can understand that he was cool and composed when asked

about Saturday’s conference clash in Columbus. It’s the No. 11

Spartans against No. 3 Ohio State, and all that goes with it in

February.

”We’ve got a lot of work to do, but this is a fun time,” Izzo

said. ”This is a big game and we’ve put ourselves in a position to

have a big game.”

Even though the Buckeyes (21-3, 9-2 Big Ten) will still have six

conference tilts left after the game, coach Thad Matta knows a

head-to-head matchup with the closest pursuer is important because

of the balance throughout the league.

”From top to bottom, in the years I’ve been in the Big Ten,

this is probably as good as it’s been,” he said. ”Sometimes

there’s a cut above, (but) the parity this year is just

incredible.”

The Spartans (18-5, 7-3) and Buckeyes can attest to that, as

they had to overcome struggles against lower teams this week

leading to the showdown.

Purdue on Tuesday became only the third opponent during the

Buckeyes’ 39-game home winning streak to lead in the second half.

The Boilermakers pulled into a tie with five minutes left, before

losing 87-84.

The next night, last-place Penn State trailed 52-47 with nine

minutes remaining before Michigan State pulled away from the

visitors for a 77-57 victory.

Afterward, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers, whose Nittany

Lions lost by 24 at Ohio State on Jan. 25, spoke about the power of

this Saturday showdown … and he’s not even a part of it.

”It’s going to be a great game,” he said. ”Two different

styles. It’s going to come down to the wire.”

Purdue coach Matt Painter, perhaps trying to set a tone for his

team in the future, thinks the officials may have a say in it.

”They’re both tough teams and physical,” he said. ”It depends

on how it gets called. I think that’ll be really important how the

game is called.”

If it’s a typical, Big Ten game, there will be a lot of physical

play. Matta said it’s crucial for his players to gauge the

officiating early.

”The hard part is not deviating from what you’re trying to

accomplish in terms of both offensively and defensively,” he said.

”One of the things we pride ourselves on, is playing hard without

fouling. That’s a slogan we use.

”We view fouling as a sign of weakness.”

The Buckeyes rank 30th nationally with an average of 15.8 fouls

called on them while Michigan State is 123rd (18.2).

”Defense is going to be huge; their defense, our defense,”

Ohio State sophomore guard Aaron Craft said. ”It’s definitely

going to be a big key to the game. Whoever can score the most off

their defense and try to limit the other team is going to be

successful.”

For the Buckeyes, that means containing senior forward Draymond

Green, the Spartans’ leader in scoring (15.2) and rebounding

(10.6).

”Draymond is a tremendous basketball player,” Matta said.

”There’s so many things he can do that can affect the outcome of

the game. For us guarding him, it’s going to take five guys and

having the awareness of where he is.”

Michigan State will try to control Ohio State sophomore forward

Jared Sullinger (17.4 points, 9.0 rebounds). To do so, Craft

expects the Spartans to indeed be physical with him.

”The beating he takes on regular basis, most of it is within

the context of the game,” he said. ”And most of the time, they’re

not fouls and they’re something you have to deal with. Jared has

handled it really well.”

With so much at stake, the teams know that momentarily lapses

can be critical.

”We’ve almost got to play mistake-free and do all the

intangibles,” Michigan State sophomore guard Keith Appling said.

”We have to play Spartan basketball for 40 minutes.”