Blueprint To Beat The Buckeyes?

Michigan State's 58-48 win over Ohio State on Feb. 11 may have been more detrimental to the Buckeyes than the implications the game had on the Big Ten race. Did Spartans coach Tom Izzo release the blueprint for how to beat the Buckeyes to the rest of OSU's future opponents?

Michigan State's 58-48 win over Ohio State on Feb. 11 may have been more detrimental to the Buckeyes than the implications the game had on the Big Ten race.

That is, of course, if Spartans coach Tom Izzo released a blueprint for how to properly defend the Buckeyes, which could be cause concern for Ohio State when it faces teams in the NCAA Tournament more apt to reproducing what Michigan State did athletically.

Izzo had a simple plan for stealing a win on the road. Izzo put emphasis on locking down the paint with his big men while forcing sophomore All-America forward Jared Sullinger to endure a grueling game filled with running and increased contact.

"We tried to wear them down by running our offense," said Izzo, who acknowledged his strategy was geared toward slowing Sullinger. "(Ohio State has) depth – just not as much as they have in other years.

"We took the chance of digging down (on Sullinger) a little bit (from the perimeter), forcing him off (the block), and try to knock some balls loose when he put it on the floor. We were semi-successful at that."

Like it is to be expected when trying to defend a team as talented as Ohio State, Izzo's strategy game with a price because it led to consistent open looks for Ohio State's perimeter players. With the onus to knock down those open shots from beyond the arc put on the shoulders of such players as William Buford and Deshaun Thomas, neither of them was able to make the Spartans pay.

Buford and Thomas combined for only 12 points – each making only 2 of 12 attempts from the floor – and most of the shots they took were open looks given by a Spartans defense dedicated to slowing Sullinger's proficiency in the paint.

"We better make them (in the future)," said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta, who anticipates his team being put in similar situations later this season as well as in the postseason. "We'll have the same looks and our guys know we have to shoot a little better than the percentage."

Izzo said after the game he felt his team played perhaps the best 40 minutes of defense it has all year, and that was evident after holding the Buckeyes to a season-low 48 points while forcing Sullinger to turn it over a career-high 10 times.

When opposing coaches flip on the tape of the game when preparing for Ohio State, one could come to the conclusion that Izzo provided a flawless primer on how to beat the Buckeyes.

Matta, though realizing some of his team's deficiencies, doesn't feel preparing for his team is as simple as trying to duplicate what Michigan State's personnel allowed them to accomplish.

"I think we all look at different teams and say, ‘This team defends this way and it was effective,' and then you go into practice and you look at your team and realize we're not that team, we don't have those guys and we don't do that," Matta said. "So you always have to be careful.

"I watch a ton of film and I think, ‘We have to do what this team did to them,' but it is more like we don't have those guys or practice that type of situation. I think for everybody it is a little more of a challenge. It's easier said than done. It's not quite that easy."

On paper, Buford and Thomas are lethal offensive weapons when given good looks from the outside, and even sophomore shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. has had games where he's torched the opposition from beyond the arc.

However, the Buckeyes have certainly lacked a go-to shooter who can consistently make teams pay from the outside when they concentrate inside on Sullinger. OSU had that a year ago in Jon Diebler, but Ohio State has yet to find the consistent long-range shooter this year.

If Ohio State is matched up with a team that has an athletic big man in the postseason, those same struggles that were present against Michigan State could be duplicated.

The only way to solve that issue for Ohio State would be to be proficient in knocking down jumpers, most specifically when they are in the form of clean looks at the basket. Shooting 26.4 percent from the floor as it did against the Spartans could result in another premature exit in the NCAA Tournament.

Ohio State's shooting percentage against the Spartans was the lowest Matta's team has shot from the floor since shooting 24.6 percent during a 70-47 loss to Texas A&M in the 2007 NIT Season Tip-Off in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Perhaps how poorly the Buckeyes shot was an anomaly, especially given it has been multiple years since posting a performance that bad. But as complicated as basketball can be sometimes, it can often be very simple.

Ohio State will go only as far as its shooting takes them.

"I feel like we had some really good looks," Buford said. "They did pretty good defensively, but it was probably the lowest (percentage) we've shot since I've been here. It's simple – we need to knock down shots."

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