The Buckeyes new this was a possibility. They hoped it would happen.
When the Big Ten Tournament bracket was set, Ohio State knew that one win in the postseason would put them against Michigan State. Again.
The Buckeyes (20-12) played the Spartans (26-5) two times in their final three regular season games, falling by a combined 34 points in the two meetings against the No. 2 team in the country.
In the first game the Spartans were hot from three-point range. The second saw them use crisp ball movement to dominate in the paint. So How can the seventh-seeded Buckeyes get past the second-seeded Spartans?
“We’ve just got to do stuff that we haven’t done the past two games," freshman forward Mickey Mitchell said after the Buckeyes beat Penn State Thursday night. "Obviously our effort has to be there but we just have to watch the film tonight, have our meeting and try to break down the game as much as possible. We know what they like to do and they know what we like to do, it’s just who’s going to come out there and guard each other the best.”
Priority No. 1 should be slowing down Denzel Valentine. The Big Ten Player of the Year had 27 points and 13 assists in the team's most recent meeting, a 91-76 Michigan State win March 2. The Spartans guard is averaging 19.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists on the season.
That last number presents the real problem. Valentine is a great scorer, but he's also surrounded by weapons and adept at finding them. Whether it's the Big Ten's leading three-point shooter Bryn Forbes or fellow senior Matt Costello, if the Buckeyes over-help on Valentine he'll find the open man and that guy will likely make Ohio State pay.
"They are a great team," head coach Thad Matta said. "They pose so many problems. With that said, we have to play better than we played the first two games.
"We know the first thing is we're going to have to defense and do a great job doing that. And we're going to have to play harder adn we're going to have to play smarter, and anything can happen now."
The Buckeyes struggled with intensity early in the win over Penn State, but center Trevor Thompson knows that can't be the case against the Spartans.
"We’re hungry. They gave it to us the first two times. The biggest thing is we know coming in to the game we have to lay everything on the line, we can’t hold anything back," he said. "Everyone should be completely exhausted after this game because we’re just going to give it everything we’ve got and just play with passion and heart.”
At 6:30 p.m. tonight the Buckeyes will find out if that is enough against what many think is the best team in the country.