For the fourth time in the last calendar year, the basketball game between the Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State Buckeyes will feature two very highly ranked teams playing with something on the line. This time around it will be the 18th ranked Michigan State Spartans (15-3, 4-1) playing host to the 11th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (13-3, 3-1). Tip off is scheduled for 6:00 PM, Saturday evening and will be televised on ESPN.
Last year, the Spartans and Buckeyes squared off three times on the hardwood. And each time a game was played between these two, there was something on the line, thus, a little bit of a rivalry was instilled between the two schools.
The first of these meetings came on February 11 and took place in Columbus. First place was on the line as Michigan State was attempting to pull into a tie atop the B1G conference.
And the visiting Spartans would do just that. All afternoon long, the Michigan State defense held Ohio State in check, forcing Jared Sullinger into 10 turnovers, all the while holding the Buckeyes to 26% shooting from the field. The tough physical game went the Spartans’ way as they came away with a 58-48 victory, knotting things up for first place in the conference.
The next matchup came in East Lansing. It was Senior Day for the Spartans and it was also the final B1G game of the year and Michigan State had the opportunity to take the outright B1G championship. However, if they lost, it would be a three way tie between Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State.
As the game began, Michigan State got out of the gate fast. They stormed out to a 15 point lead early and it seemed as if the B1G championship was in their grasp. However, after Michigan State forward Branden Dawson went out with a torn ACL, Ohio State came back and stole the game when Ohio State guard William Buford, who had poured in 25 points that evening, hit a shot from the top of the key to give the Buckeyes the victory, 72-70, along with a share of the B1G title.
One week later, the teams would meet in Indianapolis for the B1G tournament championship game. In this game, the teams, who had become all too familiar with each other by now, played an extremely tight game throughout. However, at the end of the day, a struggling Draymond Green hit a three pointer late to help solidify victory for the Spartans, giving them the B1G tournament championship as well as solidifying a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Flash forward to this year and these same two schools are again two very highly ranked teams matching up against each other with something to prove. Once again, teams are jostling for position among the top spots in the B1G conference and this game could be huge in determining who will be there at the end.
For the hometown Spartans, a win would be their fifth straight in conference play and would move them closer to the lead in the B1G with a game against first place Wisconsin next up on the slate.
For the visiting Buckeyes, they come in riding high, coming off a huge win where they handed hated rival Michigan their first loss of the season, 56-53.
Ohio State is led by junior forward Deshaun Thomas. Thomas handles the bulk of the scoring load for the Buckeyes, averaging 20.3 points a game to go along with 6.6 rebounds. Thomas averages nearly twice as many points as the next highest scorer on the team, Lenzelle Smith Jr. (10.3 ppg), so if the Spartans can shut down Thomas, they should have a good shot to win this game.
Another very talented player on this Ohio State team is junior guard Aaron Craft. Craft, who isn’t so much known for his offense (8.9 ppg, 4.6 apg), but for his defense. Ever since coming in as a freshman, Craft has been regarded as one of the best defensive guards in the nation, including last year, when at times he gave Michigan State guard Keith Appling fits as he tried to bring the ball up the floor.
Craft very much sets the tone for a very good Ohio State defense that has given up over 70 points just once all year, so fans in attendance at the Breslin Center should consider themselves very lucky if they receive tacos at the end of the game.
Nevertheless, as the Buckeyes and the Spartans take to the floor once again Saturday night, a very similar thing is once again on the line. Both teams will be duking it out for positioning at the top of the most competitive conference in the country.
Follow Ryan Squanda on twitter @squandarunner