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Ohio State men’s basketball vs. Michigan State: Game preview and prediction

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The Buckeyes will look to earn their third-straight win when they host the Michigan State Spartans this afternoon at Value City Arena.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State will look to turn around their recent fortunes against Michigan State today at Value City Arena. The Buckeyes will be shooting for their third-straight win after beating Wisconsin in Madison last weekend, and Penn State on Wednesday night in Columbus. Ohio State currently sits two games behind Michigan, who is on top of the Big Ten standings, and a victory would push the conference record of the Buckeyes to 8-4 this year.

It wasn’t easy for the Buckeyes to defeat Penn State on Wednesday night, but all that matters is Ohio State sent the Nittany Lions back to State College with a loss. Chris Holtmann’s team trailed Penn State 73-68 with five minutes to go before ending the game on a 15-6 run to secure the 83-79 victory. The victory was Ohio State’s fifth in their last six games.

E.J. Liddell paced Ohio State with 22 points in the victory, hitting all 10 of his free throw attempts. The Buckeyes hit 20 of their 21 free throw attempts as a unit in the game, and are second in the country with 299 made free throws. C.J. Walker has been almost automatic at the charity stripe this year, hitting 97.8% of his 46 free attempts.

Liddell wasn’t the only Buckeye to have a strong game in the win over Penn State. Justice Sueing finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, notching his second double-double of the month, and the third in his college career. The California transfer also recorded five steals and swatted two shots. Zed Key was a spark off the bench for the Buckeyes, scoring 11 points in just nine minutes. Kyle Young rounded out Ohio State’s double-digit scorers in the game, recording 10 points before fouling out late in the second period.

One Buckeye who has been struggling of late has been Duane Washington Jr. The junior was just 2-of-11 from the field against Penn State, finishing with eight points. Over the last two games, Washington has been held to single digits in the scoring column after doing so just once in his first 15 games of the year. Washington’s season average has fallen to 14.9 points per game, dropping him a tenth of a point behind Liddell for the team lead. Even though Washington hasn’t scored much over the last two games, he is still setting up his teammates, dishing out 10 assists during that span.


Preview

Ohio State will now try and exercise some recent demons against Michigan State. The Buckeyes have lost four-straight games against the Spartans, with Chris Holtmann posting just a 1-4 record all-time against Michigan State. Ohio State is 57-72 all-time against the Spartans, but the Buckeyes do at least have a 37-24 edge over Michigan State in games played in Columbus.

Michigan State’s season hasn’t gone as planned, entering today’s contest with an 8-5 record. The Spartans have especially struggled in conference play, posting a 2-5 record in Big Ten games. Michigan State started the season ranked 13th in the country, and were ranked as high as No. 4 in the AP Poll before they suffered their first loss of the season just before Christmas to Northwestern.

The Spartans’ 2020-21 campaign was thrown for a loop earlier this month when basketball activities were paused because of COVID-19 protocols. Prior to Thursday night’s game against Rutgers, the last contest Michigan State had played was on Jan. 8 when they fell to Purdue 55-54 in East Lansing.

Speaking of Thursday night’s game against Rutgers, it’s one that the Spartans are going to want to quickly forget. Michigan State lost to the Scarlet Knights 67-37, which was their first loss all-time against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights jumped out to a 15-0 lead, and while Michigan State was able to close the deficit to 26-20 at halftime, the Spartas weren’t able to muster much of anything in the second half, scoring just 17 points. The 37-point total was Michigan State’s lowest scoring output since back in 2008 against Iowa.

In the loss to Rutgers, Michigan State shot just 28.6% from the field, which actually wasn’t their worst shooting output of the season. The Spartans shot just 26% from the field in the 81-56 loss to Minnesota in late December. Aaron Henry’s seven points against the Scarlet Knights were Michigan State’s team-high. Henry had almost as many turnovers as he did points in the game, giving the ball up to Rutgers six times. The Spartans finished the game with 21 total turnovers, which is a season-high for the team

Michigan State was without Gabe Brown and Davis Smith in the loss to Rutgers, and Brown won’t be able to play on Sunday against the Buckeyes after recently testing positive for COVID-19. Assistant coach Dane Fife also recently tested positive and missed Thursday night’s game against Rutgers. Fife is said to only be experiencing mild symptoms, and it is unknown if he will be able cleared to be a part of head coach Tom Izzo’s staff today.

The COVID-19 shutdown came at the worst possible time for guard Joshua Langford, who had recorded three-straight games of at least 10 points before the Spartans were forced to the sidelines for 20 days. Langford averaged 15 points per game for Michigan State in the 2018-19 season before an ankle injury sidelined him for all of last year. The fifth-year senior tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month and it was obvious he wasn’t quite the same in his first game back on the floor, hitting just one of his eight shot attempts in 21 minutes off the bench on Thursday night.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

As Langford works his way back into playing shape, even more pressure will be placed on Aaron Henry, who is doing a little bit of everything to try and help Michigan State through this tough stretch. Not only is Henry leading the Spartans in scoring with 13.4 points per game, he is also averaging 1.5 steals and blocks per game. The Buckeyes will have to be careful when taking the ball into the paint against Henry, as he has blocked at least three shots in three games this year. Henry declared for the NBA Draft following last season, but decided it was in his best interests to return to Michigan State for another season.

Ohio State can’t afford to lose track of Joey Hauser on the perimeter. Even though the Marquette transfer has been cold from beyond the arc lately, he can really catch fire if his shot falls early on. Hauser hit six three-pointers earlier in the season against Western Michigan, finishing with 24 points in the victory. The junior forward also scored a season-high 27 points in the loss to Wisconsin on Christmas Day. Hauser is a beast on the boards, grabbing at least 10 rebounds in five games this year.

Rocket Watts is another name Ohio State fans can expect to hear a lot of on Sunday. The sophomore guard started the season strong, recording double figures in scoring in four of Michigan State’s first five games. Rocket could use some boosters of late, as he has only passed 10 points in one of the last eight games. Watts was a thorn in Ohio State’s side last March, scoring 19 points in the 80-69 win by the Spartans over the Buckeyes in what would turn out to be the final game for both schools before the rest of the season was shutdown because of COVID-19.


Prediction

Ohio State is catching Michigan State at the right time. The Spartans are obviously dealing with not only rust because of the layoff due to COVID-19, but Michigan State is also going to be without Gabe Brown in this game. This will be the second of three-straight road games for the Spartans, so not only is Michigan State getting thrown back into the fire after a 20-day layoff, they are doing so away from home.

Even with the issues that Michigan State is dealing with, don’t expect the Spartans just to roll over for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has a habit of making things a lot more difficult than they need to be. While the record hasn’t suffered all that much this year, the hearts and stress levels of Holtmann and the rest of Buckeye Nation are being tested.

The good news for Ohio State is they can finally start to get some continuity with their roster. C.J. Walker is back after missing four games due to a hand injury, Seth Towns continues to see more minutes after a couple knee surgeries, and Meechie Johnson is becoming more comfortable after reclassifying this year. About the only player missing from Ohio State’s rotation earlier in the season is Jimmy Sotos.

If the Buckeyes can see Washington regain some of his shooting form from earlier in the year, Ohio State is going to be a tough team to stop. E.J. Liddell is playing the best basketball of his young career, Zed Key is becoming a force off the bench, and Justice Sueing and Kyle Young give this Ohio State team leadership from veterans. The depth and toughness of this Buckeye squad is going to be tough for a lot of teams to match in the NCAA Tournament.

While you can never really count Tom Izzo and the Spartans out, this might be one of those games where you can. Michigan State is lost right now, and it’s hard to find them finding their rhythm just a couple days after scoring 37 points in a 30-point loss. The Spartans may hang around for a bit, but Ohio State will have a little too much in the end. In a way it’s the opposite of what has happened between the two teams over the last couple years.

ESPN BPI: Ohio State 76.6%
1:00 PM ET
TV: CBS

LGHL Score Prediction: 72-59 Ohio State