Red-Hot Spartans Seek to Halt Streaking Buckeyes

It’s not often that you see the No. 6 team in the country sit at fifth place in their own conference’s standings. But after all the mayhem this college basketball season has provided us, are we really all that surprised?

The Michigan State Spartans (22-5 overall, 9-5 in B1G play), the highest ranked Big Ten team in the national polls at that sixth spot, will look to improve their conference ranking in a crucial road trip to Columbus. The Ohio State Buckeyes (18-10, 10-5) have high hopes for this contest as well, as they are one of the four teams currently ahead of Michigan State in the standings.

As it stands, Thad Matta’s squad is holding on to the all-important fourth seed for March’s Big Ten Tournament. That is ever-important since the top four seeds in the conference all receive a double-bye in the bracket and don’t have to play until Friday of championship week, giving their players rest and more time to prepare for the madness of March.

Although this season has been all kinds of up-and-down for Michigan State, the fact remains that the Spartans are in position to lock up a double-bye, despite a three-game losing streak and an injury to arguably the nation’s best all-around player. Tom Izzo has without a doubt crafted yet another national title-contending masterpiece, but the true molders of this edition of Spartan basketball have been the seniors.

Coming down the home stretches of their MSU careers, Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello, and Bryn Forbes are each playing the best basketball of their lives and seeking to leave their footprint in the sand of East Lansing. One big footprint would be a Big Ten Conference Tournament championship, so games like Tuesday’s match with Ohio State loom large in setting the team up for success in Indianapolis.

Ohio State, who lost twice to Michigan State last season, is on a four-game winning streak, although three of those victories have come over teams with losing conference records. Still, you can never count out a Thad Matta team against Tom Izzo. The two coaches have faced off 23 times, with Izzo leading the series 12-11. On top of that, the games are usually very close; no game in the series has been decided by more than ten points since 2009. While the Spartans look superior to the Buckeyes on paper, history tells us this one is bound to be a tight contest throughout.

The Buckeyes once again have plenty of talent on their roster, but unlike previous years, they don’t have a star player like D’Angelo Russell, Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, or Jared Sullinger. This year’s squad relies on team ball, led by forward Marc Loving. The junior has struggled at times adjusting to being the top scoring option on the team, but he still averages 12.6 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game. At the other forward position, Keita Bates-Diop is the top rebounder on the team at 6.5 RPG and also scores 12.0 PPG. Sitting just behind him in the rebounding department is Jae’Sean Tate, grabbing 6.4 RPG and scoring 11.7 PPG. However, Tate may want to cut down on his floor slapping:

Jae'Sean Tate floor slap

A quick glance at the Buckeyes shows that the team is very forward-oriented, which may spell trouble against the elite guard play from Michigan State’s Valentine, Forbes, and Eron Harris. Ohio State’s biggest key may be to at least neutralize the Spartans’ guards and give their big men a chance to win down low. This is a tough task, but nothing is impossible in college basketball this season.

The game will tip off Tuesday at 9:00 PM in Columbus, Ohio and will be broadcast on ESPN.