Value City Arena
The Ohio State men's basketball team enters senior day at Value City Arena losers of two in a row, dropping them to a tie with fifth place in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes return home to face a familiar opponent: The Michigan State Spartans. Ohio State traveled to East Lansing, Mich. in early January when both teams were ranked in the top-5 of the AP Poll.
The Buckeyes were flat early in that meeting, and got thoroughly out played for the first 35 minutes of action. Ohio State promptly went on an incredible 20-3 late in that matchup to force overtime, only to eventually fall 72-68 to the Spartans.
Both teams have had significant problems since that game, with Michigan State falling to No. 22 in the AP Poll and Ohio State now unranked. The Spartans have struggled with key injuries to their most important players (Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, and Andreian Payne.).
"We were the last team to play them when they were in full force..." said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta in his Friday afternoon presser.
Meanwhile, Ohio State continues to fall into scoring droughts that allow inferior teams to play them tough.
The Spartans snapped a two-game losing streak of their own Thursday night against Iowa. Ohio State has had a week off to prepare for Tom Izzo's squad that always seems to peak going into March.
"From the game last night... it looks like we'll get the full thing Sunday," Matta said.
Five different Spartans scored in double figures against Iowa, including 12 points from senior point guard Keith Appling. Appling normally drives the engine for Michigan State's up-tempo offense, but he has been bothered by a nagging wrist injury.
If Appling can start to find a groove, the Spartans are liable to push the pace and make things difficult for the Buckeyes. Michigan State averages 76.5 points per game, which is good for second in the Big Ten.
Ohio State does not want to get into a running game with the Spartans because the offensive firepower is just not there for them. The Buckeyes need to pressure Appling and try to force turnovers to get some easy baskets early.
It is imperative that Ohio State gets into a rhythm from the field in the opening minutes Sunday after going 0-of-11 from long distance in its previous game against Indiana. The Buckeyes are just shooting 33.3 percent from three-point range on the season, yet they still tend to settle for long jump shots.
The big story out of Columbus is the final home game for senior Ohio State guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. The two guards came to Columbus as a part of arguably the biggest recruiting class Matta has assembled. They both have spent most of their careers complimenting the likes of Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas until they finally got to take over as top dogs this season.
Craft said there's no better way to wrap up his career than playing the Spartans.
"Since freshman year we have had a lot of great battles with them. I would not of wanted it (to end) any other way," Craft said.
Though it has been an up and down season for Ohio State, Smith still said he has enjoyed every moment of his time in Columbus.
"This has been the best part of my life ... being a student-athlete here," Smith said.
The Spartans lead the all-time series with Ohio State 62-54, but the Buckeyes have won more than 60 percent of the time when the games were played in Columbus.
Numbers to Know
According to ESPN's Joe Lundardi, Ohio State would be a 6-seed out West if the NCAA Tournament started today. With a victory on Sunday and a run to the Big Ten Tournament championship game, the Buckeyes could end up getting a top-5 seed in the big dance.
Michigan State shoots 39.1 percent from three-point range, which is good for second in the conference. The Spartans hit 10 three-pointers Thursday night against Iowa. The Buckeyes will need to guard the perimeter to keep the game within striking distance late.
Michigan State is third in the Big Ten in rebounding margin, out rebounding opponents by an average of 4.7 rebounds per game. Ohio State out rebounded Sparty by 14 Jan. 7 in East Lansing. The Buckeyes will need another stellar performance on the boards to have a chance to win.
Cast of Characters
Trice is a junior guard and a native of Huber Heights, Ohio. He scored 17 points on 3-4 from downtown against Iowa on Thursday. Trice did not play in the last meeting against Ohio State and surely, he would love to light it up back in his home state.
Super sophomore Gary Harris is a prime candidate to snag Big Ten Player of the Year. He is second in the conference in scoring at 17.7 points per game and he has kept the Spartans afloat while the team dealt with injuries. The Buckeyes will have to contain Harris who likely will be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
We highlight Craft once again before senior day in Columbus. Craft's numbers will likely put him among some of the greats that have ever played in the Big Ten conference. Craft is No. 7 all-time in assists (662) in Big Ten history and now is No. 1 all-time in steals (324). One day you may enter Value City Arena and see Craft's No. 4 hanging from the rafters.
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Smith hails from Zion, Ill. and has served as an emotional leader for the Buckeyes during his four years in Columbus. He and Craft are the quickest duo to reach 100 wins in Ohio State history (119 games). If nothing else, you can say Smith has been one of the best winners to wear a Buckeye jersey.