The Buckeyes (11-10, 3-5) have won back-to-back games over Purdue and Northwestern heading into this pivotal game against the Spartans (11-8, 6-2), set for noon inside Value City Arena (ESPN).
"If we win tomorrow, it would be a legitimate winning streak," OSU center Velimir Radinovic joked with reporters. "We definitely have some confidence. I think we've come a long way the last couple of weeks compared to how we had been playing.
"We are approaching this game as a must-win. We're 11-10 and we know we have to keep building on that if we want to have any kind of postseason aspirations."
But the Buckeyes will certainly be facing a stiff test with MSU, which is sitting second in the Big Ten standings just a half game behind Wisconsin. The Spartans have positioned themselves nicely after going just 5-6 in the nonconference portion of their schedule.
"This is a very good basketball team," OSU coach Jim O'Brien said. "I know I chuckled early on this season when people said Michigan State was down and out. I recall saying, `Does anybody not think Michigan State will not be in the thick of this race?' They are too good, too well coached and they are playing pretty well right now."
MSU will come into the game ranked 45th in RPI. The Spartans have played four of RPI's top 12 teams and have a strength of schedule rank of 15th. The Spartans fell at Kansas, at home to Duke, Oklahoma, Kentucky and at UCLA and Syracuse before the Big Ten season began. Wins were against Bucknell, Penn, DePaul, South Florida and Coppin State. Losses in the Big Ten this season have come against Wisconsin on the road and at Purdue in overtime.
O'Brien talked about how the Spartans differ from some of the talented teams MSU coach Tom Izzo has had in recent years.
"They have always been brutishly good," he said. "But now they play with four guards and they get you with their skill and athleticism than with brute strength."
Center Paul Davis, a 6-11 senior, leads the Spartans in scoring and rebounding this season. He scored a career-high 32 points in a home win over Indiana Jan. 31 to up his scoring average to 16.6 points per game. He also contributes 6.5 rebounds a game. Guards Chris Hill and Kelvin Torbert are next on the scoring chart with 13.8 and 10.8 points per game, respectively.
"They play with (6-4) Kelvin Torbert as the four man," O'Brien said. "For us to guard him with Velimir, that's not good for us. We will have to see how that plays itself out."
And, yet, the Buckeyes can not afford to go away from their strength, which is using Radinovic and power forward Terence Dials around the basket.
"That is our goal, to try and do that," O'Brien said. "Hopefully, we will play as well as we have the last couple of games."
O'Brien also wants to see shooting guard Tony Stockman, with 39 points in OSU's last two games, to continue his string of fine play.
"He has played very, very well," O'Brien said. "Without Tony's contributions and the way he's played, we don't win either of those last two games. He has been very efficient with his shots. He has taken good shots. I don't know if we can ask him to do a whole lot more."
Coaches Vs. Cancer Crusade
This Saturday has been designated as National Coaches vs. Cancer Awareness Day by the Philly Six Coaches vs. Cancer organization and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. O'Brien announced that he and Izzo would be among a group of coaches nationally who will wear sneakers in place of their usual dress shoes for their games on Saturday.
"Tomorrow, all of the coaches will wear sneakers during the course of the game," O‘Brien said. "We are doing it to bring awareness to the fight against breast cancer. We would like everyone coming to the game to wear a pair of sneakers. We hope the media and the fans will all put on a pair of sneakers and join the Coaches vs. Cancer crusade."
The Coaches vs. Cancer program unites the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) in the fight against cancer. The program leverages the strength and celebrity of our country's basketball coaches to reduce cancer risk through education programs and to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
Since its inception in 1993, the program has raised more than $22 million dollars to benefit the Society's efforts in cancer research, advocacy, education, and patient services. This program enables the American Cancer Society to support important work, including groundbreaking research that saves lives, education, advocacy, and patient services.
* MSU has won 16 of the last 19 games between the teams dating to 1992. That string includes a 2-2 record in Value City Arena, including Spartans wins in their last two trips to Columbus. But OSU won the last meeting with MSU 55-54 in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament in Chicago.
* Izzo has a record of 200-86 in nine seasons on the Michigan State sidelines. Izzo took over the head coaching position after serving as an assistant for the Spartans under former head coach Jud Heathcote. Izzo's 2000 MSU team won the national championship.
* OSU is 2-8 this season against teams ranked in the RPI top 100. OSU has wins over Villanova and Purdue and losses to San Diego State, Georgia Tech, Seton Hall, Texas Tech, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes are ranked 129th in RPI with a strength of schedule rank of 121st.