Expect slugfest from Ohio State-Michigan State
Tuesday night, No. 3 Ohio State plays at No. 4 Michigan State.
Expect a slugfest.
Both teams are loaded with experience and playing like it. The Buckeyes come in 15-0, not having allowed a single opponent to get to 70 points. The 13-1 Spartans have won six straight since their only loss, allowing more than 63 points just once in that stretch.
It might not be the biggest game of the college basketball season to date, but it’s certainly the first really big game of 2014 — not to mention the first really big game in one of the nation’s best conferences.
If it comes down to the final minute, well, it usually does.
"Rivalries are built on two good teams that are playing, and that are playing for something," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "Us and Ohio State have played for a lot of Big Ten championships in the last six or seven years or at least have been right in the hunt.
"When you’ve been able to do what we’ve done, and that’s kind of maintain some semblance of consistency, different teams become your rivals in certain ways."
These two have become rivals not just through big, close games but through familiarity. They see one another often. They often recruit the same players. And in a strange twist in today’s college basketball world, both have seniors.
Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are two of four Michigan State players scoring in double figures for the season. Izzo has never hidden his admiration for Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft, a former AAU teammate of Payne’s. Only two players, junior LaQuinton Ross and senior Lenzelle Smith, are averaging double figures for the Buckeyes, but Craft comes in as the Big Ten Player of the Week because he does a little of everything and does it well.
Izzo and the Spartans have seen it.
"Most of these (games have) gone right down to the wire," Izzo said. "There have been some really good games. I think they’re very well played. I think it’s been a good, clean hard fought rivalry."
Ohio State has won the last two; Michigan State won the previous two. The Buckeyes have won six of 10 meetings dating back to 2009. They’ve played three times in each of the last two seasons; the Buckeyes won twice last season, the Spartans won twice in 2012 despite losing at home in the regular-season finale to allow Ohio State to earn a share of the Big Ten title.
"Those were some high-level games," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "You just look at the players that have played in those games and it’s been amazing."
The popular college basketball site KenPom.com rates Ohio State as the nation’s most efficient team and the best defensive team. Michigan State ranks sixth and 10th defensively. The Spartans will hope home-court advantage and red-hot sophomore Gary Harris can carry them through and put them atop the Big Ten standings — at least temporarily; Wisconsin is 15-0, too — while Ohio State hopes its big-stage experience will help even as this team plays away from Columbus for just the fourth time.
"Our guys have a great appreciation for how good Michigan State is," Matta said.
Tuesday night, the Big Ten race is officially on.