(East Lansing) A two-game losing streak is no way to start conference play, but thats what the No. 25 Spartans will be faced with on Thursday at the Breslin Center.
The Spartans first test will pit them against Ohio State (7-4), who themselves struggled during its non-conference schedule, which happened to be one of the toughest.
Jim OBriens squad took on the likes of No. 1 Duke, No. 4 Alabama and No. 6 Pittsburgh, falling in each contest. The Buckeyes closest of the three games was against Alabama, who nearly escaped with the 54-48 win.
Ohio State is coming off a tough week of its own. The Buckeyes are coming off a heartbreaking loss to No.19 Louisville on Saturday. OSU was leading by 14 at halftime, but squandered the lead and lost 72-64 in overtime.
Though the team has struggled at times, they have also dealt with numerous injuries and a lack of experience coming off the bench, which has left their starting lineup racking up big minutes. Ohio States "big three," guard Brent Darby, guard Sean Connolly and forward Zach Williams are all averaging over 35 minutes of play.
OBrien, who is in his sixth year on the Ohio State bench, said hes looking forward to opening a tough conference schedule, but knows his experienced starting lineup has to carry this team.
"Theyre going to have to continue to keep getting a lot of minutes until the new guys that are not as experienced start to become a little more productive," OBrien said. "So when that going to happen, I really dont know."
Darby is one weapon the Spartans must be key in on. This is his third year in the starting lineup and he leads the team with 18.3 points per game and dishes out 4.9 assists per game.
Connolly is also one of the better shooters in the league. Although his play has been shaky lately, hes knocked down 28 three-point shots and is shooting 42 percent from behind the arc.
Williams and 7-footer Velimir Radinovic should give the Spartans some trouble in the low post. Williams averages 11.3 ppg and is the teams leading rebounder at 6.3 per game. Radinovic averages 8.4 ppg and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Despite the teams 7-4 record, MSU head coach Tom Izzo respects the Buckeyes and assures the game will be a physical battle.
"They dont have as much depth; theyve had a few injuries." Izzo said. "But Ive always said Jimmy is one of the better coaches in the country and has found a way to do good things no matter what his lineup is."
Izzo said the mental lapses his team has shown during the beginning of the year, can parallel those of Ohio State.
"Theyve played some good basketball, maybe a little bit like us, maybe theyve been a little bit inconsistent, but theyve played good basketball. I think itll be a very good opener for us," he said.
Izzo said the team must stop committing the 16.3 turnovers they commit a game and start hitting their free throw shots. He is optimistic the team can turn it around and compete for a conference title.
The Spartans will rely on leading scorer sophomore Chris Hill for offense. Hill averages 16 points per game, and is the only Spartan in double figures.
Freshman center Paul Davis and senior Forward Al Anagonye should match up well with Ohio States big men.
But the key is to stop Darby, something Izzo said is tough to do.
"I think our guards are improving and well put different people on him," he said. "We think we have some good matchups for Brent, some with size, some with strength.
"But he is a very, very good player and hes playing very well right now."
Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.