Carrying a four-game winning streak, Ohio State might be playing it’s best basketball this season.
While the Buckeyes overtime win against Nebraska Saturday wasn’t inspiring – Thad Matta’s team shot just 38.9 percent in the win and allowed a double-digit lead to evaporate in the second half before securing the win in overtime – Ohio State gutted out a conference road win to extend their Big Ten winning streak.
Problem is, Ohio State (18-10, 10-5) now faces what might be the conference’s most complete team.
Michigan State, who the Buckeyes welcome to Value City Arena tonight at 9 p.m., sit even with Ohio State in the conference loss column, but the Spartans (22-5, 9-5) have won six of their last seven games and enter the contest ranked No. 6 nationally.
“I think that they’ve got great pieces,” Matta said of Michigan State. “You’re starting three seniors, and that’s definitely a good thing right there. They are who they are, they’ve got guys that know, ‘Hey, I’m going to screen, I’m going to post,’ and things like that. I think the other thing with Michigan State is just how well they shoot the basketball, it’s amazing.”
As Matta said, the Spartans shoot at an alarming rate. Tom Izzo’s team shoots a league best 42.4 percent from three, but the Spartans defense has been just as impressive.
Michigan State leads the Big ten in scoring defense, allowing just 63.3 points per game, and has beaten opponents by a league-best 15.8 points per game. Teams have shot just 37.2 percent against the Spartans and just 29.4 percent from three, both tops in the Big Ten. For good measure, Michigan State leads the league in both offensive and defensive rebounds and assists, dishing out 20.7 helpers a game.
“Just being able to compete with a team of their caliber, just having the confidence that we’re able to compete with guys like that,” Ohio State forward Marc Loving said. “I don’t know, you’ve got to have the right mindset from the beginning to be able to even be competitive in a situation like that.”
The Buckeyes may have to have that mindset without one of their most consistent players. Jae'Sean Tate, who left the game against Nebraska late in the first half before returning to start the second half, underwent an MRI on his left shoulder, according to reports from The Columbus Dispatch.
Making things even more difficult for the Buckeyes will be the presence of Denzel Valentine. The Michigan State senior is the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year and is likely to represent the Spartans as an All-American. The forward is leading the league with 19.7 points per game while adding 7.7 rebounds and a Big Ten best 7.3 assists a contest.
That type of versatility from the Spartans senior reminded Matta of some of the best players he has coached.
“Watching Valentine play, he kind of reminded me of an Evan Turner because when he got there he didn’t do anything particularly great, but he was sort of good all the way across,” Matta said. “It’s funny because I think he’s really taken to coach Izzo’s coaching because those two seem like they were into it a lot early in his career.
“He’s kind of like a D’Angelo Russell in terms of points, assists, rebounds, he does everything.”
That’s high praise from Matta, and the coach knows that slowing down Valentine would go a long way towards getting the Buckeyes their fifth straight win and second win over a ranked opponent this season.