Date: Wednesday, February 9 – Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI (14,759)
Time: 8 p.m. (ESPN Plus Local)
GAME NOTES: The Buckeyes (16-7, 5-4 Big Ten), in the first season of the Thad Matta regime (102-31 career-record at Xavier and Butler), have won four-straight coming off of last Saturday's 72-46 win over Michigan in Columbus. In the meantime, Michigan State (15-4, 6-2 Big Ten), survived a fierce late-game rally last Saturday in Iowa City before prevailing over the Hawkeyes, 75-64. This will be the first and only regular season meeting between the Buckeyes and Spartans.
Neitzel, will be making the second-start of his Spartan career versus the veteran Foster (who recently took over the Buckeye PG job from Senior Brandon Fuss-Cheatham). Look for Foster to pressure Neitzel early to force some turnovers and get the Buckeyes in transition. Neitzel will have to play Foster tight as well on the other end, due to Je'Kel's ability to hit from beyond the arc (50-112 .446).
If Neitzel struggles in running the Spartan offense, Michigan State could be in for a long night because the Buckeye five-guard rotation of Foster, Fuss-Cheatham, Tony Stockman, Jamar Butler and J.J. Sullinger have collected a combined 133 steals (5.78 average-per-game).
As usual, expect the Spartans to try and get Paul Davis involved in the offense early and often, Dials is the Buckeyes main inside threat, and if they can get him into foul trouble early Michigan State could dominate the paint on both ends of the floor.
Conversely, Dials is a force as the Buckeyes' leading scorer (15.4 ppg) and rebounder (8.3 rpg). If Davis goes into tentative mode, Dials could rough him up and send him to the bench in favor of Matt Trannon or Drew Naymick, which would mean big trouble for the Spartans' gameplan.
Swingman: Ohio State's J.J. Sullinger (6'5" 200) versus Michigan State's Shannon Brown (6'4" 205)
Sullinger is Ohio State's third-leading scorer (10.5 ppg), second-leading rebounder (5.5 rpg), and best all-around shooter (.560 FG and .447 3pt-FG). Shannon Brown needs to attack Sullinger on the offensive end to force fouls and get to the line. Defensively, Brown must keep Sullinger in check or expect Tom Izzo to look for Kelvin Torbert off the bench early.
BUCKEYES TO WATCH: Tony Stockman (6'1" 180) and Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (6'1" 200)
Each of these players will play big minutes off the Buckeye bench Wednesday night. Both were recently moved into reserve roles, in favor of current starters Foster and Butler. Stockman is Ohio State's second-leading scorer (13.6 ppg) and leads the team with 39 steals, while Fuss-Cheatham leads the Buckeyes' in assists with 84 (3.65 apg).
KEYS TO VICTORY:
Ohio State: Expect the Buckeyes to pressure Neitzel, Chris Hill, and the rest of the Spartan ball handlers all over the floor to force turnovers and create open looks in transition. If Michigan State has major problems against Ohio State's pressure, the Buckeye's could pull the upset.
In the halfcourt, Ohio State must go after Paul Davis early, testing him with the physical Dials. If Dials can knock around Davis and get him on the bench in foul trouble, he could have a big night against the lesser Spartan reserves.
Michigan State: Neitzel must play a solid game and protect the basketball from the aggressive Buckeye backcourt. Neitzel and the rest of the Spartans must find Paul Davis inside early, and Davis must in turn be aggressive against Dials to neutralize him and possibly send him to the pine with foul trouble.
Ohio State loves the three-pointer and will look to hit them on open looks in transition. The Spartans must play solid perimeter defense to prevent Ohio State from getting open looks. If the Buckeyes get hot from downtown, they will likely be able to overcome their lack of size and keep the game close.
If the Spartans can avoid turnovers, defend the perimeter and control the glass against the undersized Ohio State squad, they will be well on their way to victory.
Prediction: Michigan State will control the play inside and outside with tough defense and rebounding. Neitzel, Hill, and rest of the Spartan guards will make enough plays to keep the Buckeyes at bay.
Final: Michigan State 78, Ohio State 66