Keys To Key Matchup With Buckeyes, Game Prediction

Keys To Key Matchup With Buckeyes, Game Prediction

Basketball

Keys To Key Matchup With Buckeyes, Game Prediction

#8/#7 Michigan State (12-2, 3-0) barrels into Columbus looking like a team on a mission.  Ohio State (12-1, 2-0) is #14 in the AP Poll and #12 in the Coaches Poll.  Whoever earns this win puts themselves into a great position early in what will be a sensational Big Ten race over the next couple of months.

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Michigan State and Ohio State have played 122 basketball games against one another over the decades.

Buckeyes everywhere are right to point out that despite Mark Dantonio’s ability to beat Urban Meyer a couple of times on those grand stages over the last decade, Ohio State holds a commanding 32-15 edge on gridiron.

The hardwood is a different story, however, and it probably surprises Buckeyes to learn that the Spartans hold a 71-51 overall edge in the basketball series.

Before any Spartans look at Saturday’s matchup at Value City Arena and assume a win is coming, let’s take a quick moment to look back exactly (almost to the day) one year ago.

With Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, and a game-by-game countdown to what was supposed to be a coronation on the final Monday night of the season, Michigan State strolled into Columbus with the nation’s #1 ranking – and left humbled by the Buckeyes after an 80-64 domination by Ohio State.

Columbus hasn’t been too kind to Izzo over the years and that loss there last season is a perfect example of how winning on the road in the Big Ten is a major challenge for any team, no matter how good it may be.

On Saturday, Michigan State has an opportunity to do much more than add another single victory to the overall advantage the Spartans have over Ohio State in the all-time series.

This year’s Buckeyes have earned their 12-1 record and have continued what second year head coach Chris Holtmann started last season.

The Buckeyes surprised just about everyone by going 25-9 overall and, perhaps more surprisingly, 15-3 in the Big Ten a year ago.

Ohio State earned a No. 5 seed in the Western Region in last year’s NCAA Tournament and wound up losing in the Second Round 90-84 to 8th seeded Gonzaga.

While Michigan State’s early exit last March was a disappointment, Ohio State’s run gave Buckeye fans reason for optimism heading into this season.

Saturday’s battle isn’t a contrived Top 15 matchup – this is a real Top 15 matchup between two teams that would rightfully view a victory as a major step towards establishing some early control in what is destined to be a season-long battle for supremacy in a rugged and talented Big Ten.

So, what are the three keys to Saturday’s game?

SPARTAN DEFENSE and REBOUNDING – IT’S SMOTHERING and STRONG

Here’s an underrated stat for 12-2 Michigan State: the Spartans are collecting 57.7% of all available rebounds – that’s good for 4th in the nation.

That’s an underrated stat only because of the way the 2018-19 Spartans are scoring at a rate that threatens to be Tom Izzo’s most prolific offense.

Defense and rebounding have always been prioritized by Izzo – but this team’s offense is special.

The offense – and the blistering speed with which these Spartans attack whenever a transition opportunity presents itself – has become a big story with this team.

The Spartans are averaging 87.1 points per game (good for 10th in the nation).

But scoring just for the sake of scoring doesn’t matter much if the opponents are able to overpower your defense and if rebounding isn’t emphasized.

Michigan State averages 32.4 defensive rebounds per game, second in the nation only to Oklahoma’s 32.5.

For reference, there are 31 Division I teams that average fewer than 32.4 total rebounds per game.

Meanwhile, Ohio State is not a great offensive rebounding team.
The Buckeyes are averaging 9.5 offensive rebounds a game.
In Ohio State’s only loss of the season – a 72-62 shortfall to Syracuse in Columbus during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge – the Buckeyes ended the game with only 25 total rebounds, four of those coming on the offensive end.
Aside from the per game scoring average, Michigan State is taking high percentage shots and converting – the Spartans are shooting 51% from the floor.
Meanwhile, Michigan State has been playing sensational defense in holding opponents to 67.4 points per game and 37% from the floor.
Look at the stats this way:
  • Michigan State Offense – 87.1 points per game.
  • Ohio State Offense – 78 points per game.
  • Michigan State Defense – 67.4 points allowed per game.
  • Ohio State Defense – 61.9 points allowed per game.

MICHIGAN STATE’S COMMITMENT TO SHARING THE BALL

Michigan State has the most assists in the nation with 306.

The Spartans average 21.9 assists per game.

Michigan State also has the highest assist percentage in the country, recording an assist on 69.4 percent of all of their made field goals — that’s way ahead of the national average of 52.6 percent.

Michigan State has three different players who average at least 15 points per game – Cassius Winston (17.1), Nick Ward (16.4), and Joshua Langford (15).

At the time of this report, Joshua Langford’s status for the game on Saturdays is still questionable due to his left ankle injury.

Whether Langford plays or not, Michigan State fires a ton of scoring power at an opponent when the entire playing rotation is taken into consideration.

While Ohio State has limited opponents to 61.9 points per game, it’s hard to envision the Buckeyes limiting all of the Spartans scorers on the same night.

If Ohio State can force the Spartans into playing more “one on one” with the ball, perhaps that will limit Michigan State’s ability and commitment to distributing the ball to the open man.

In Michigan State’s two losses (to Kansas and Louisville), the Spartans recorded a below-average amount of assists.

Bottom line – when the Spartans are sharing the ball, that usually leads to high scoring outputs from that main trio and the rest of the very productive role players such as Xavier Tillman, Kenny Goins, Matt McQuaid, and Kyle Ahrens.

STATE’S ABILITY TO ALTER OHIO STATE’S SHOT SELECTION

In Ohio State’s 12 wins, its margin of victory has been impacted strongly by its effective field goal percentage.

Ohio State’s worst shooting performance of the season came in its loss to Syracuse – perhaps the Buckeyes, like the Spartans last March, forgot that Jim Boeheim plays a 2-3 matchup zone that night.

Meanwhile, because of a greater ability to gather offensive rebounds, force turnovers, limit opponents’ shots, and distribute the ball effectively, Michigan State has more room for error if the shooting goes cold.

The Spartans are 2-0 in games where their field goal percentage was at least 7 percent worse than their average.

The Buckeyes are 0-1 in such games.

Bottom line here is that Ohio State’s success is tied to its ability to convert field goals at a high percentage.

If the Buckeyes go cold – or if they even creep towards being lukewarm – their ability to beat a team like Michigan State decreases substantially due to the Spartans’ strengths in all other areas of the game.

For Michigan State, while the offensive output is on pace to be Tom Izzo’s strongest offensive team, the Spartans success isn’t solely dependent on high percentage conversion from the floor and has more to do with the overall factors related to rebounding, assists, and the ability to protect the ball.

GAME PREDICTION

Ohio State’s most powerful weapons on offense – 6’9″ Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson (16.5 points per game), 6’1″ Senior guard CJ Jackson (13.6 points per game), and 6’3″ freshman guard Luther Muhammad (9.3 points per game) will have to play their best games of the season since Michigan State’s defense is as locked in as its been in years.

Cassius Winston and Nick Ward are playing defense well enough to even garner mild praise from Izzo himself.

Xavier Tillman would start on any other Big Ten team and he’d probably be a focal point of that team’s offensive approach.

Kenny Goins is the best all around player in the nation that nobody thinks about.

Matt McQuaid can be relied upon to play sensational defense, to run the point when Winston needs a breather, and to score in a variety of ways.

Michigan State has looked like a team that isn’t even playing against an opponent right now but is, rather, playing against a standard.

It’s been a long time since a Spartan team has looked this fast, this disciplined, and this efficient in all areas of the game.

Is this a day when a letdown could occur?

Sure – that’s always possible.

But the leadership from Cassius Winston is starting to look and feel like leadership from a championship point guard dressed in Green & White.

Ohio State might be able to hang with the Spartans for much of the first half – but the way this Spartan team is forcing the pace, converting in transition, dominating the boards, and suffocating opposing offenses, it would be a surprise if Ohio State found these Spartans napping on Saturday.

MICHIGAN STATE – 84

OHIO STATE – 71

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