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

Down bad and sinking deeper into the abyss, can Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes finally play a complete game against Tom Izzo’s veteran-laden Spartans?

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to preview Ohio State men’s basketball, folks — whether you like it or not.

2023 has been the opposite of kind to Buckeye Nation, especially fans of the floundering men’s basketball team. Chris Holtmann’s squad is 0-for-February and just 2-10 since the calendar flipped. But the Buckeyes’ lost season continues Sunday, when they play host to Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans.

Fresh off their 10th loss in 11 games, the latest to Northwestern on Thursday, the Scarlet and Gray should simply be looking for development and steady progress at this point. A win or two (or five) would be nice, but the 2022-23 season is all but over if/when measured by “traditional” success metrics: win-loss record, tournament hopes, etc.

I wish I could say there is still a chance to rattle off four or five straight wins, given this team’s on-paper talent, but they have not proven able to handle the rigors of their Big Ten schedule. And three months into the season, the players actually seem to be regressing rather than progressing. The same could be said for coaching.

So again, the remainder of this season should be geared toward player development, consistently moving forward (steady progress), and attempting to establish momentum the program and its players can carry into next season.

Disclaimer: I am fully aware that OSU could, in theory, go dancing with a Big Ten Tournament run, but that seems about as likely as my seven-leg anytime touchdown scorer parlay hitting during tonight’s Super Bowl... If both happen, all LGHL readers get drinks on me.

What does development and/or steady progress look like? To me, it looks an awful lot like players such as Sean McNeil and Ice Likekele spending more time on the bench. I have nothing against these guys. As a matter of fact, I think both play with consistent give-a-damn and effort. But they are not part of Ohio State’s future. And if they are not playing well and/or contributing to wins, then what are we even doin’ here!?

If the Buckeyes are going to lose, I would rather see them do so with Roddy Gayle Jr., Tanner Holden, and Felix Okpara on the floor (more). Of course, this is only one fan’s opinion. Far be it for me to tell a coach with a 6-1 record in the Round of 64 how to do his job.

Holden is arguably the last Buckeye to hit a clutch shot, so why is he buried on Chris Holtmann’s bench?
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

All of this being said, I do not want to see this team wave the white towel. I really don’t. I love the Buckeyes, so please do not confuse my frustration with apathy. But playing inefficient veterans over younger players with potential is not going to salvage this season. It is too far gone. Put the young guys out there and let them cook! Start doing so this Sunday, because what’s the worst that could happen?

With that out of my system, let’s look ahead to this Super Bowl appetizer:


Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Statistically speaking and all things considered, Ohio State and Michigan State match up pretty evenly. The Buckeyes do hold a noticeable edge in points scored per game (75.0 to 68.1), and the Spartans are a better defensive team (65.6 PPG allowed to OSU’s 68.0). But other than the offensive scoring disparity, there is not a great statistical divide between these two teams.

OSU is shooting 46.3% on the season, while MSU sits a bit lower at 44.1. Both teams splash threes at right around 37%, on nearly the same number of attempts. And they are separated by a miniscule 0.19% when it comes to free throw efficiency. So if number of shots and/or possessions is close to even, we should expect a tight game throughout.

Oddly enough, Ohio State’s biggest advantage is probably the one they have in overall field goal efficiency: No. 82 in the country compared to No. 212 for Michigan State (as of Friday night). I’m no Dr. Naismith, but I am pretty sure that getting easy buckets is important. However, a higher percentage of made baskets has not led to a better record for Sunday’s home team.

The Buckeyes have also outscored their opponents (in totality) by almost 200 points, while the Spartans have done so by a much smaller margin. This stat can be misleading, because OSU thoroughly destroyed early-season opponents while MSU played the likes of Gonzaga, Kentucky, Villanova, Alabama, and Oregon in November, but it is an interesting stat nonetheless.

While there is no distinct statistical advantage to be found between these two teams – if anything, you might expect Ohio State to possess the better record – Izzo’s squad has found a way to win more than half of its Big Ten games. Michigan State is 7-6 in the conference and coming off a 63-58 victory over Maryland on Tuesday night. The Spartans should be well-rested, but as a team that lost three out of four prior to Maryland, they are far from bulletproof.

For the Buckeyes, Brice Sensabaugh provides their star power, but he is also looking to shake off a dismal performance against Northwestern. Oddly glued to the bench until Holtmann’s team needed points on Thursday (one made FG in just 16 minutes), Sensabaugh has clearly drawn the ire of his head coach (Holtmann denied this following the loss to Northwestern, but he would not admit this even if it was true). But still, OSU needs his scoring to win. Their offense grows stagnant when he is out for long stretches, and he is one of the few players on this year’s roster who is even remotely capable of shouldering an offensive load with consistency.

Even after a slow start to February, Sensabaugh is still averaging 16.7 PPG and doing so with efficiency. Buckeye Nation might take umbrage with his shot selection and awareness of others, but the four-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week is hitting 49% of his field goals and 45% of his threes. Only two other players of note note – featured in this game – can match his same level of overall efficiency, and they are both low-post players.

Those two big men (Zed Key and Mady Sissoko) also combine to average the same scoring output as OSU’s freshman phenom. In addition to looking for a bounce-back game from Sensabaugh, Buckeye fans are hopeful that both Justice Sueing and Bruce Thornton will continue their much-improved play in February.

On the other side, MSU is led by a solid core of veterans. Five players average at least 8.9 PPG, four of them being juniors and/or seniors. Tyson Walker is the team’s leading scorer at 13.9 PPG, followed closely by Joey Hauser (13.3) and A.J. Hoggard (12.3). Hauser is also their leading rebounder and a willing three-point shooter, making him a priority for Holtmann’s defense. And at 6-foot-9, he may present a bit of a matchup issue for the Scarlet and Gray.

The same could be said for Sissoko, who is built like an edge rusher. However, he is not much of a scoring threat. Hoggard is Izzo’s floor general, but also a poor shooter. He will look to drive and dish with regularity.


Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State has to win one or two of these remaining games, right? Sensabaugh will be the most talented player on the floor Sunday, and his team is beyond due. The Buckeyes have dropped a number of close contests, often shooting themselves in the foot down the stretch. But they have more offensive firepower than the Spartans, as well as a significant offensive rebounding edge. So if the defense shows up and OSU takes care of the ball, I honestly like their chances.

But Michigan State team is not going to roll over and play dead. The Spartans find themselves in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings, and would very much like to strengthen their case for NCAA Tournament appearance No. 25 under Izzo. His teams have not advanced past the Round of 32 since 2018-19, and although most doubt their ability to do so this season, an MSU run under the legendary coach is always right around the corner.

If Ohio State comes out shooting well, and limits their turnovers, I could see them winning somewhat comfortably. That might sound ridiculous for an 11-13 team, but I am going my my gut here. Michigan State lacks elite offensive playmakers and their defense, while statistically above average, should not instill fear in the Buckeyes. MSU only forces 9.7 turnovers per game, which ranks near the absolute bottom of college basketball.

Expect the Buckeyes to come out playing fast and free, with nothing to lose. Because, well... they have nothing to lose. The Spartans do not want to get into a shootout, so if OSU avoids the early hole(s) they tend to dig themselves into, it should allow them to play a better brand of basketball and not become so concerned with making mistakes.

ESPN BPI: Ohio State 73.6%
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

LGHL score prediction: Ohio State 75, Michigan State 69