The Big Ten championship will be on the line when Ohio State travels to Michigan State in the regular-season finale on Sunday (4 p.m. ET; CBS).
Green drives around Deshaun Thomas in the first meeting.
The No. 5 Spartans (24-6, 13-4 Big Ten) have already clinched at least a share of the conference title and will be shooting for the outright crown. The No. 10 Buckeyes (24-6, 12-5) will share the Big Ten championship with a win – and it would actually be a three-team tie in that scenario with OSU, MSU and Michigan (if the Wolverines are able to win at Penn State on Sunday).
If the Buckeyes are able to upset the Spartans, it would mark the third-consecutive league title for OSU and head coach Thad Matta.
Ohio State knows all too well that Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country. The Spartans came into Columbus on Feb. 11 and ended the Buckeyes’ 39-game home winning streak with a convincing 58-48 victory. Ohio State shot a horrific 26.4 percent (14-of-53) from the field in that contest, including 13.3 percent from three-point range (2-of-15).
One could argue that Michigan State was fortunate to catch OSU on an off night. However, playing devil’s advocate with that theory, the Spartans are known as a lockdown defensive team and they likely had a lot to do with Ohio State’s dreadful shooting.
The bottom line is that the Buckeyes don’t just need to “shoot better” on Sunday when they head into the hostile Breslin Center … they need to show exponential improvement from the previous meeting. And no one knows that better than Matta.
“Well, they were effective defensively, but we missed shots that quite honestly we have to make,” he said. “For whatever reason, they didn’t go down. But like I said, they were very-effective defensively. But when you play a great team like Michigan State, you’re going to have to take and make some challenging shots, but there’s no question we have to execute better.
“When it comes to playing Michigan State, you have to know what you have and what you’re capable of doing. And trying the best you can to eliminate things that are trying to be exploited throughout the matchup.”
Ohio State sophomore center Jared Sullinger felt his team played “terrible” against MSU at Value City Arena, but he also admitted the Buckeyes were “out-toughed” by the Spartans.
One thing Matta is certainly pleased with is Sullinger’s attitude recently on the court. Instead of worrying about the officials in Wednesday’s 75-73 escape at Northwestern, Sullinger was focused on the task at hand (well, usually) and finished with 22 points and 18 rebounds.
“I liked the look he had in his eye,” Matta said.
Craft The 3-point Marksman?
Don’t look now but OSU sophomore point guard Aaron Craft is turning himself into a good perimeter shooter. Craft is now up to 40 percent on the season from 3-point range (18-of-45) which would have been unthinkable a month or two ago. Craft buried 4-of-5 from long distance against Northwestern – when he scored 14 points – and is now averaging 8.6 points per game.
“We really haven’t talked much about it,” Matta said of Craft taking more shots. “He knows. He has a good understanding of what he needs to do to help this basketball team and make us as good as we can be.”
* In the RPI, Michigan State is ranked fourth and OSU is eighth.
* Michigan State senior forward Draymond Green appears to have Big Ten Player of the Year honors wrapped up heading into this game. For much of the season, it was a dead heat between Green and Sullinger, but Green has seemingly pulled away in recent weeks.
The 6-foot-7 Green is averaging 16.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9 Sullinger counters with averages of 17 points and 9.3 boards. The numbers are very close, but Green has also been the clear team leader for MSU. Also, the vote usually goes the way of the senior when it’s a close call (such as Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson getting it over Sullinger last year).
“Everybody on their team listens to him,” Matta said of Green. “He’s like (MSU head coach Tom) Izzo’s second coach.”
* Since 1960, Ohio State has come to the last game of the regular season needing a win to get at least a share of the Big Ten title six times.
The Buckeyes are 2-4 in those games. That includes 1968 (win at Illinois, 67-64, and subsequent win over Iowa in Big Ten playoff game), 1980 (lost at Indiana, 73-70 in overtime), 1982 (lost at Minnesota, 87-75), 1983 (lost at Indiana, 81-60), 2000 (won at Minnesota, 82-72) and 2010 (defeated Illinois at home, 73-57).
* Michigan State has already clinched its 13th Big Ten title and seventh in 17 years under Tom Izzo. Ohio State has won 19 titles, although two others (2000 and 2002) were vacated due to the Jim O’Brien/Boban Savovic episode.
* Ohio State is going for a third straight Big Ten title for the first time since winning five in a row from 1960-64. Michigan State is the last school to win at least three in a row with four titles from 1998-2001.
* Purdue has the all-time lead with 22 titles, while Indiana has 20. Michigan can also get to 13 with a win over Penn State and an OSU win over MSU. It would be UM’s first title since 1986.
* Ohio State is 6-4 on the road this season with wins at South Carolina, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Northwestern and losses at Kansas, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.
* OSU is 5-5 this season against ranked teams and 36-42 in eight seasons under Matta. This year, OSU has wins over Florida, Duke, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin and losses to Kansas, Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin.
* Michigan State leads the all-time series with OSU 59-51, including a 36-16 edge at East Lansing. Ohio State had won the last three meetings in the series before a 58-48 loss at home to MSU on Feb. 11.
* Ohio State is 4-14 all-time at the Breslin Center, the home of MSU hoops since the 1989-90 season. OSU did not win at Breslin from 1992 until 2006. Beginning with 2006, OSU is 3-2 at Breslin. The Buckeyes won their last visit there on Feb. 21, 2010 (74-67).
* Under Matta (since 2004-05), OSU is 7-7 against Michigan State. Under Tom Izzo (since 1995-96), MSU is 19-10 against OSU.
* The Spartans are 3.5-point favorites over the Buckeyes.
Also Check Out
Click here for Lee Caryer's column on the month of March and observations of Craft.
Click here for Friday's Daily Battle Cry column for a look at Sullinger and where things stand for the Buckeyes.