Over the past three seasons, Michigan State averaged a total 8.3 losses. The Spartans have already been defeated eight times this season. After entering the season No. 18 in the Associated Press poll, Michigan State fell out of the rankings after a loss to Texas Southern and the Spartans haven’t been ranked since.
Still, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said that he expects the same old Spartans tomorrow in East Lansing.
“Like all of us, they’ve had a couple games here or there where they maybe didn’t play as well as they wanted to,” the coach said. “I know one game in particular where they probably should have won. I say that from the standpoint of watching them on tape it looks like my 11th year of looking at the exact same Michigan State-type of basketball team.”
In 21 games against Michigan State, Matta’s teams have posted an 11-10 record, going 8-4 in games in which the Buckeyes were ranked.
There will be some familiar faces on the floor for the Spartans, a team led by upperclassmen. Junior Denzel Valentine is tops on the team with 14.4 points per game while seniors Travis Trice (13.5) and Branden Dawson (11.8) also score in double figures. Dawson pulls in 9.9 rebounds a game to lead the team.
The Spartans and Buckeyes are two of four teams that enter the weekend with four Big Ten losses. Both are vying for second place in the league while everyone is chasing 10-1 Wisconsin.
“This would be a huge victory for us if we could come away victorious this Saturday,” center Amir Williams said. “We know we still got a few games left in the season, we can really make some noise and eventually make a deep run in the tournament. I feel like these few games are going to continue to help us grow as a team.”
Williams returned to the starting lineup for the Buckeyes against Penn State Wednesday, a game that Ohio State won by 20 points. Anthony Lee had started the previous five games at center, but the fifth-year senior has been dealing with a nagging groin injury that forced him to sit out against the Nittany Lions. Matta said Friday afternoon that he was still unsure about Lee’s availability against the Spartans.
One player who will make his return to the court is Marc Loving. The Buckeyes second-leading scorer has not played since scoring 20 points and knocking down five threes against Maryland on Jan. 29, sitting out three games with a suspension for undisclosed reasons. Loving, who has been practicing with the team but not traveling during the suspension, will return for the game against the Spartans, though Matta was unsure exactly how he will work back in to the rotation.
In Loving’s absence, Keita Bates-Diop received more minutes and responded well. In the past two games the long-limbed freshman averaged 10.5 points and 7.0 rebounds while totaling six blocks and four steals.
“I saw it as an opportunity with Marc out,” Bates-Diop said. “I wanted to step up and play well and I did. Having Marc back it just makes us a better team and makes us a deeper team so we should be good moving forward.”
Loving’s return combined with Bates-Diop’s growth gives Ohio State quality depth going forward, but that doesn’t mean that getting a win in East Lansing will be easy. The Buckeyes are well aware of the importance of tomorrow’s game with a win going a long way towards creating separation in the crowded league standings.
“From the standpoint of where both teams are in the Big Ten and obviously we only play one time this year so it’s definitely a big game,” Matta said. “We’ve had some incredible battles over the time that I’ve been at Ohio State and honestly, I kind of look forward to playing these type of games.
“Tomorrow at 2 o’clock we’ll take a deep breath and see where we are but they know what we’re asking of them and they know what they have to do to have a chance to win the basketball game.”