East Lansing, MI
The #6 Michigan State Spartans are 22-5 (8-5) and will be taking on the 18-10 (10-5) Buckeyes tonight in Columbus. That game tips off at 9PM on ESPN and the young, but talented Buckeyes look to give the Spartans all they care to handle.
Tom Izzo said of taking on the Buckeyes tonight that, “This is the second week in a row that we are going to face the hottest team in the conference. They’ve won four straight, Wisconsin had won seven straight. If you look at it over the years they are always close. It always seems like they are one, two, or three point games. Especially lately. All of them have been under 10 points even when we were supposed to blow them out or they were supposed to blow us out in the Neitzel days and it ended up a barn burner. They are sort of young, but very talented. It scares me when a guy like (Marc) Loving you know who I think is very good even though he was played well at times and struggled at times. We recruited (Keita Bates) Diop. We know what kind of player he is. The point guard is an exceptional player. He has had some ups and downs, but as far as talent wise they are very good. That is a surprising thing. Credit to Thad (Matta) that they are one of the best defensive teams in the league. They’ve always been a very efficient offensive team, that has wavered a hair, but they’ve always been a good defensive team and they are still that. “
Matt Costello may know the reason why these games are always tight. He said, “They’re a good team and we’re a good team, so it’s going to be tough games every time we play them. I expect that to happen again tomorrow. It’s going to be a tough game, especially in Columbus. They’re 6-1 in conference. We’ve gotta bring our A-game.”
MSU certainly doesn’t live or die by the three, but here is an interesting stat. OSU is third in three-point field goal percentage defense in Big Ten play at .314 while the Spartans are shooting the best in the Big Ten at 44.6 percent from three in conference games.
For the Spartan super star Denzel Valentine, he has a ton of respect for the Buckeyes. "They're really talented, sneaky talented. They beat Kentucky. They've got some bad losses. They've been pretty much up and down. During their win streak, they're getting confident. I think they're figuring out who they are and what their roles are. They have talent, they're just young, and they're playing to get into the NCAA tournament. We have to match their intensity, or have more intensity."
Izzo also took time to address his two injured players in PG Tum Tum Nairn and F Kenny Goins. Izzo stated that, “Injury wise Kenny is no way near coming back. He has started to walk some without crutches so that is a couple of weeks away yet minimum. Tum is practicing a little bit more. Nothing has changed. We are still going to try to get him a few minutes more each game. Nothing is going change as far as his injury and what it is like.”
So while it is fair to call OSU young, you can’t count them out. They have talent and they are playing well right now. So is the Buckeye mantra look out for next year or is the ceiling high this season? “I still think it’s high and I say that because Kam (Williams), their shooter, he’s a redshirt sophomore so he’s got some experience and Tate has played in a lot of games, so he’s got some experience. It’s not always what grade you’re in its how much playing experience do you have. (Marc) Loving, we’ve had our hands full with him. Probably what Thad would like is a little more consistency out of him, but they’ve got two guys in side, very athletic and a very good shot-blocking team. They’ve got enough scoring, they have proven to be in stats a very solid team. I think this team has a chance, I mean this is a very big game for them, too. That’s the problem when you get to this time of year, depending on who you catch. We catch them twice in three games for them. Who you catch and what you catch, as I’ve stated at press conference after press conference … I was talking to a guy in the ACC last night that was talking about how they’ve had to make adjustments to playing one team, playing two early, one late, depending whether you get a team hot or cold. I think right now these are big games for Ohio State, they’re big games for Michigan State. They’re a little younger, we’re a little more experienced but those young guys are talented guys and I think Thad has done a good job with them. They were a little inconsistent early, they’re becoming more consistent and now they’ve won four in a row. We’re gonna go down there and they’re 6- or 7-1 at home. We’re gonna get a hot team with a lot on the line and so it will probably be tournament-type fever and that’s probably good for us right now.”
OSU’s youth doesn’t equate to a lack of length. They have some bigs that have got senior Spartan center Matt Costello’s attention. “They are long, athletic, skilled, good basketball players. I think they haven’t got much of an opportunity because they’re very guard-oriented, so they’ve got Lyles and Loving, who’s been there forever, that take most of the shots, so the bigs don’t get that much of an opportunity. As bigs, we’ve gotta be ready for that. We’ve gotta be ready for their ability to score and rebound and take care of business down there.”
One thing you will see tonight is that the Buckeyes youth may lead to some mistakes, but their intensity on both ends of the court assures that they will fight for an entire 40 minutes. Valentine agrees. "They get after it defensively. Offensively, they take their time. They don't shoot bad shots. They don't turn the ball over. They pretty much get what they want on the floor. They're a very well-coached team. Coach Matta is a great coach and they just get it done pretty much."
So while Michigan State has their eyes on an outside chance at a Big Ten title, they certainly have their cross hairs locked on to a national title opportunity. Tonight will be a hostile environment against a team that won’t be intimidated and a national TV audience. It will feel like a NCAA game and that will only make MSU better in March.