Despite a horrific first half shooting from downtown, and a slow start from their star guard, the Buckeyes were able to ride some hot free throw shooting and strong contributions from their much-maligned senior class to beat Minnesota 79-73 to make the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. Their next opponent? The No. 3 seeded Michigan State Spartans, who earned the double bye.
Ohio State only played the Spartans once during the regular season, a 59-56 Michigan State victory thanks to a Denzel Valentine threeball on, when else?, Valentine's Day. That game played out like so many other road games for Ohio State. The Buckeyes started off slowly, climbed back in the second half, but couldn't convert enough opportunities to complete the comeback. Ohio State's free throw shooting was particularly egregious in their first matchup, shooting only 5-13 from the stripe. If Ohio State made their free throws against Michigan State like they did against Minnesota, maybe it's Ohio State coming off a double-bye right now instead of Michigan State.
The good news for Buckeye fans is that Ohio State is safely in the NCAAs, and after picking up another Top 100 win (and away from Columbus, no less), the Buckeyes should also be assured a single digit seed. But with Wisconsin on the other side of the bracket, a run to the Big Ten Tournament finals is certainly possible, and that might help the Buckeyes avoid a 1 or 2 seed in the second round. To do that, they'll have to go through Michigan State, in a meeting that seems to happen every single year in the Big Ten Tournament.
Numbers to know
That was Ohio State's shooting percentage from three point land during their first meeting with Michigan State. The Buckeyes have gone a little cold from downtown lately, (they were even worse against Minnesota, shooting only 26.3%), and without post options who can manufacture buckets down low, long scoring droughts from downtown often means scoring droughts, period. Ohio State doesn't need to make a ton of three pointers, but if they want to continue their stay in Chicago, they're going to have to be more efficient from downtown.
That's Michigan State's record over their last eight games, as they moved from "regular season disappointment" to NCAA lock. Those two losses? One in overtime to Minnesota, and the other to Wisconsin, who clobbered everybody. The Spartans are playing some of their best basketball of the season at just the right time, unlike Ohio State, who got obliterated, at home no less, by Wisconsin right before the Big Ten Tournament. Now that the Spartans have had a little time to rest, can they maintain that momentum?
Cast of Characters
Were you expecting somebody different here? He's Ohio State's best player, he's the best player in this conference not named Frank Kaminski, and he's absolutely the engine to Ohio State's offense. If Russell is struggling with his shot, especially from outside, the Buckeyes may go minutes without scoring. If he's feeling it, Ohio State can beat almost anybody. After he dinged his thumb against Minnesota, Russell struggled some with his shot, but he got things fixed in a big way to still lead Ohio State with 23 points. The Buckeyes will need him to be efficient and shoot well all over the floor if they want to knock off the Spartans
For a while, it looked like Loving was the second option Ohio State needed, but after he came back from his suspension, Loving looked lost and was struggling badly to score. He played his best game since returning yesterday against Minnesota, showing some aggressiveness on the court, crashing the boards, while adding 12 points off the bench. He only played five minutes and did basically nothing against Michigan State in their first meeting, and if he's able to return closer to his early season form, especially from downtown, Ohio State becomes that much harder to stop. If he gets taken out of the game, the Buckeyes wont have much of a bench.
Is there anything Valentine doesn't do? He fills up the stat sheet in every way for Michigan State, sharing the basketball and setting up his teammates, crashing the boards, and scoring, especially from long rage. Valentine struggled badly with his shot in the regular season finale against Indiana, but hit double digit scoring in eight of his previous nine games before that, including 17 against Ohio State, along with the game winning three. Valentine is a hard guy for Ohio State to check, given his size and shooting range, and the Buckeyes will need to find a way to slow him a little.
For a team that doesn't have a lot of size and depth down low, like say, Ohio State, Dawson can be a big problem. One of the best rebounders in the Big Ten, Dawson can force Ohio State's center rotation into foul trouble, and do work on the glass, giving multiple opportunities for Spartan shooters. Dawson was injured against Purdue and didn't play in the regular season finale against Indiana, but all indications are that he should healthy and ready to go against Ohio State. Dawson had a 15 and 11 game against Ohio State earlier in the year, and if anything, the Buckeyes will need to find a way to keep him off the offensive glass if they want to win.
How to watch
Game time: around 8:55 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 The Fan