On Sunday, the No. 11 Michigan State Spartans (20-5, 11-3 Big Ten) will welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes (16-8, 6-7 Big Ten) to the Breslin Center for the final game in their season series.
The first time these two teams met, the Spartans went to Value City Arena ranked the No. 8 team in the country with a 12-2 record. The Buckeyes came in as a 12-1 team ranked at No. 14 in the country.
Michigan State ended up winning that game by a final score of 86-77 and since then the teams have gone in different directions.
Following that loss, Ohio State went on a five-game losing, falling out of the AP poll and dropping towards the bottom of the Big Ten. They climbed their way back into the middle of the Big Ten standings and were at 6-6, but the most recent loss to Illinois hurts.
Although they fell short on their home floor against the Fighting Illini, the Buckeyes have seen signs of life and have an opportunity to build momentum against Michigan State.
If there is a positive for the Buckeyes, its that they have been getting offense from others outside of sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson. Senior guard C.J. Jackson has stepped up his game over the five-game stretch, averaging 14.6 points per game compared to his 13-point season average. Junior forward Andre Wesson has also been solid,raising his points per game from nine to 10.6 over the five games.
Jackson and Wesson are going to have to perform to bolster Ohio State’s offense. Michigan State has done a great job all season long of taking away opposing team’s stars and making their teammates perform.
The star for OSU is clearly Kaleb Wesson who averages a team-leading 14.5 points per game and pulls down 6.3 rebounds. The issue with Wesson is that he’s prone to foul trouble. He averages 3.5 fouls per game and has fouled out in two of the last five games. If the Buckeyes want to get a win, Wesson has to be disciplined battling with Nick Ward and stay on the floor.
The Spartans did the opposite of the Buckeyes following their win at Value City and ripped off a five-game winning streak. However, news of junior guard Joshua Langford’s season-ending injury put them on a three-game losing streak. Things seemed dark for Michigan State, but wins over Minnesota and at Wisconsin have boosted morale ahead of Sunday’s game.
For Michigan State, the past two games have been all about junior forward Nick Ward as he has been spectacular on both sides of the basketball. Ward averages 17.5 points and has pulled down 15 total rebounds over the stretch, compared to his 10.3 point average and 10 total rebounds over the three-game losing streak.
Ward has been aggressive, battling down low with opposing big men. Against Wisconsin he got the matchup of Ethan Happ and frustrated the All-American, leading to an inefficient 20 points on 10-of-20 shooting and six turnovers. How Ward works against Kaleb Wesson will be crucial, especially if he comes out aggressive and gets the Buckeye big man into foul trouble.
If Ward comes out ready to fight on the glass that only boosts Michigan State’s biggest advantage over the Buckeyes, their rebounding. The Spartans sit atop the Big Ten at 42 rebounds per game compared to OSU’s 34.8 average.
As has been the recent case, Michigan State’s success will stem from the play of their star big man. If it’s the same Ward who outdueled Ethan Happ then the Spartans have a good chance.
With Michigan State a half-game behind Michigan at 11-3 and Ohio State trying to get better positioning within the pack, this game could turn the season for either ball club.
Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. ET and will be televised nationally on CBS and broadcast across local airwaves on Impact 88.9 FM.