The second week of Big Ten play gets underway with a clash between Big Ten titans on Tuesday night, when third-ranked Ohio State heads into East Lansing to take on fifth-ranked Michigan State. The Buckeyes come into this game still undefeated on the season after a 84-53 win against Nebraska on Saturday, while Michigan State only loss came to North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Spartans will be playing their Big Ten home opener, which could be bad news for the Buckeyes as Michigan State has won 11 straight conference home openers.
The Spartans started off the opening half of their Big Ten schedule sluggish, trailing 47-40 at the break against Penn State on Tuesday. Since then, Michigan State has been running on all cylinders, eventually dispatching the Nittany Lions by 16 points, and then defeating Indiana, 73-56, on Saturday in Bloomington. Sophomore (and leading scorer) Gary Harris had been hampered by an ankle injury during the early season, but he showed no signs of the injury against the Hoosiers, scoring 17 of his game-high 26 points in the first half. Ahead 25-24 with 2:56 left in the first half, the Spartans used a 15-1 run to take firm control the game. The win snapped a three-game winning streak that Indiana had held against the Spartans coming into the game.
Michigan State has dealt with some issues on the injury front early in the season but they are finally getting healthy at just the right time. As mentioned, Harris missed three games with an ankle injury while center Matt Costello returned against Penn State after missing four games due to mono. Travis Trice and Branden Dawson also missed a game in the non-conference portion of the schedule each due to injuries. The start of Big Ten play must be worrisome for Michigan State's opponents though because they look like a scary team with all their parts in place.
One thing that Michigan State does really well is distribute the basketball. The Spartans are averaging an NCAA-best 18.9 assists per game, and are averaging assists on 62.4% of their possession. It will be interesting to see if Michigan State can continue to find that kind of success against a Ohio State defense that's fourth in the country in scoring defense, only allowing opponents 54.9 points per game. No team has reached 70 points so far this season against Ohio State. The 15-game streak of not allowing 70 or more points to an opponent is Ohio State's longest since they went 22 games during the 2010-11 season.
As the Buckeyes moved into Big Ten conference play, Aaron Craft has really amped up his game. Craft was named Big Ten Player of the Week after dishing out 14 assists, grabbing seven steals, and committing zero turnovers in wins over Purdue and Nebraska. Craft's 10 assists against Purdue moved him into ninth place on the career Big Ten assist rankings. Nine more assists will move Craft into eighth place over Iowa's Jeff Horner.
With what should be an intense, physical game at the Breslin Center, the Buckeyes will likely need bench production like they got against Nebraska. Amedeo Della Valle was a perfect 5-5 from the field, all three-pointers, to finish with 15 points. Freshman Marc Loving notched a career-high 13 points in the blowout win on Saturday. While he's been quiet lately, Trey McDonald may also be called upon with to help with the size in the paint that the Spartans possess.
Numbers to Know
Something has to give with Ohio State currently ranking sixth in the country in field goal defense at 36.9%. Meanwhile, Michigan State leads the Big Ten shooting 48.6% from the field.
This is the first matchup between these two teams when both have been ranked in the top 5. They have met 14 times when both teams have been ranked, with the teams each earning seven wins.
Not just any Big Ten team comes into the Breslin Center and wins. Since it opened in 1989, the Spartans are 130-22 there.
Cast of Characters
The Dayton native has always brought his A-game against the Buckeyes. Last year, the big man averaged 12.7 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game in the three games the schools played.
The matchup between the senior point guard Appling and Aaron Craft should be an entertaining one. Appling has rebounded from shooting 2-11 against Texas and is averaging 15.6 points per game on the season.
After being mired in an early-season funk, Ross has been lights out lately. Over his last four games, Ross has registered three double-doubles. Ross poured in a career-high 25 points against Purdue last Tuesday.
The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week visits the Breslin Center for the last time tonight. Craft has compiled nine steals in two games in East Lansing, and ranks third in the Big Ten's career steals rankings.