It has been a long year for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, and on Saturday at noon the regular season comes to an end. The Buckeyes enter their final regular season game at 13-17 overall and 5-14 in the Big Ten. Coming off losing 14 out of 16 games in the year 2023, the Buckeyes are currently on a two-game winning streak after defeating both Illinois and Maryland at home.
Ohio State will head to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans (18-11, 10-8) — a place the Buckeyes have not won since 2012. They have lost their last eight games at the Breslin Center.
Michigan State is currently a bubble team, so the Buckeyes have a chance to play spoiler for the day. The Spartans are coming off a comeback win at Nebraska, but lost the previous game against Iowa in overtime after blowing a 12-point lead with 85 seconds left in the game.
Ohio State is coming off a big win over Maryland on senior night behind a double-double from Justice Sueing, who scored a team-leading 16 points. This led six Buckeyes who scored in double figures Wednesday night.
It is not an overreaction to say that the first time these two teams met this season was the rock bottom point for the Buckeyes. On Feb. 12, Michigan State beat Ohio State 62-41 in Columbus and led the Buckeyes 27-14 at the half. It was one of the worst offensive performances from the Buckeyes in recent memory, and was a game they were simply never competitive in.
They will look to correct that memory on Saturday.
Michigan State is fairly balanced offensively, with former transfers Tyson Walker (Northeastern) and Joey Hauser (Marquette) leading the way. Hauser is averaging 14.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game while shooting 44.8 percent from three-point range, and Walker is averaging 14.8 points while shooting 43.4 percent from three-point range. A.J. Hoggard is averaging 12.2 points, 6.1 assists per game and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Guard Jaden Akins has come on strong as of late, and is averaging 9.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per contest, while Malik Hall is averaging 9.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
For the Buckeyes, freshman Brice Sensabaugh has been leading the team in scoring all season, averaging 16.4 points and 5.2 boards. Justice Sueing is second on the team with 12.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Sueing is coming off his first double-double of the season against Maryland.
Sean McNeil and freshman point guard Bruce Thornton are both averaging 9.6 points per game. Thornton is averaging 16.1 points per game over his last three games. Ohio State starting center Zed Key is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery earlier this week.
The Buckeyes have shown more of a pulse on the offensive and defensive end of the ball lately, and if they can keep that energy alive in this contest, it should be a much more competitive game.
Ohio State is not playing for an NCAA Tournament berth or for anything in terms of seeding, but they are still playing with a purpose. This is a fairly young team that is only losing three players to graduation (Sueing, Likekele and McNeil). Sensabaugh could choose to enter the draft, and the Buckeyes may lose one or two players to transfer, but they are bringing back a solid core of players to the 2023-24 team.
Right now, the Buckeyes are playing with confidence that they have not had since December. Even if they can win this game against Michigan State and end the season on a three-game winning streak, it doesn’t change the fact it has been a disappointing season.
However, it does help this young team to get some confidence heading into the offseason and help them learn how to win. The Buckeyes will presumably start four freshman again today (Sensabaugh, Roddy Gayle, Thornton, and Felix Okpara) and they will all play significant minutes barring any foul trouble.
I think the Buckeyes lose a close one. Ultimately, when you play at a place like the Breslin Center and against Tom Izzo in March, you have to vastly outperform a team to beat them. I think it will be a close game with Michigan State making more plays at the end of the game to win it. But another solid performance from the Buckeyes to end the season and head into Chicago.
ESPN BPI: 67.5% Michigan State
Time: 12:00 p.m. ET