For the first time in the history of ESPN's College Gameday, it's heading to Columbus - for basketball that is.
Tonight at 9 PM, Ohio State (17-3) hosts Michigan State (17-4) in a primetime battle of Big Ten powerhouses. The game, broadcast on ESPN, follows the Gameday crew of Rece Davis, Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis who are in Columbus for the first time since ESPN began airing a basketball version of the popular Saturday show.
Ohio State hopes to protect their home floor and avenge the last time the Spartans invaded their territory - last Jan. 15 when Michigan State escaped Columbus with a 62-59 double overtime victory against the Buckeyes. Although Ohio State, who eventually won the Big Ten Championship, did gain retribution with a 79-68 victory on Feb. 22 in East Lansing, a home loss to the Spartans this season would complicate the chance to edge Wisconsin for the Big Ten title a second consecutive year.
Last season, Michigan State somewhat underacheived behind veteran leaders Paul Davis, Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown. The Spartans struggle to maintain an 8-8 Big Ten record. But this year, MSU head coach Tom Izzo has a younger, more inexperienced team that has largely overacheived to a certain extent.
Forced to find more scoring, Izzo has turned junior point guard into a scoring role off the ball. Michigan State has relied on sophomore Travis Walton to anchor the point while Neitzel leads his team at 18.2 points a game while 41.1 percent from 3-point range.
Beyond Neitzel, only freshman forward Raymar Morgan has attained double-figures in scoring this season. The 6-8 Canton McKinley product spurned the Buckeyes in favor of the Spartans. He's averaging 10.8 points and 5.1 rebounds, while playing in 14 of the Spartans' 21 games due to an injury earlier in the season.
If Michigan State hopes to steal a road victory in front of a sellout crowd of nearly 19,000 people, something they've done just once this season (at Penn State), they may have to play even better than last year's double overtime thriller. All five Michigan State starters logged over 40 minutes in that game last season with Brown scoring a game-high 20 points. The Spartans made just 2-of-12 shots from 3-point range, making the victory all the more impressive but unprecedented.
Should the Spartans want to replicate that win, it will have to contain 7-1 center Greg Oden - a rather daunting task given the freshman's recent domination. In the past four games, Oden has averaged 18.8 points, 12 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. In those games, Oden is 29-of-37 from the field - shooting 78 percent.
The task of stopping, or at least containing Oden, will be assigned to Goran Suton and Marquise Gray. Suton is a 6-10 sophomore center and has been Michigan State's most consistent frontcourt player. He's scoring 9.7 points and grabbing 6.5 rebounds per game. Gray has added 8.2 points and 6.6 rebounds.
It was center Terence Dials that carried the Buckeyes last season in Columbus with 19 points and 10 rebounds. While Ohio State hopes Oden continues his recent domination, the Buckeyes would like to get untracked from outside. In the January 2006 contest, Ohio State made just 7-of-29 3-pointers. Although shooting has been spotty for the Buckeyes of late, they're still hitting on 38 percent as a team from behind the arc in 2006-07.
Behind Oden, Ohio State's second-leading scorer has been freshman Daequan Cook, who still averages 13.1 points a game despite his recent slump. Wednesday against Northwestern, Cook was held scoreless for the first time in his young career, logging just 16 minutes. It was senior Ivan Harris that carried the Buckeyes in Evanston with 18 points. He averages 9.9 points a game while fellow senior Ron Lewis is adding 12.2 points per game.
The Buckeyes are still chasing Wisconsin, who is a perfect 6-0 in Big Ten competition. With Ohio State having already lost in Madison, the Buckeyes want to protect their homecourt the rest of the season especially until the Badgers visit Columbus on Feb. 25.
For now, Michigan State is the biggest obstacle standing in the way. But finally, it's Gameday in Columbus.
What: Ohio State (17-3, 5-1) vs. Michigan State (17-4, 4-2)
Where: Value City Arena (Columbus, Ohio)
When: Tonight, 9 PM ET (ESPN)
Last Meeting: Won by Ohio State, 79-68 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.
PG Travis Walton (6-1 So.) 6.8 ppg, 5.5 apg
SG Drew Neitzel (6-1 Jr.) 18.2 ppg, 4.6 apg
SF Raymar Morgan (6-8 Fr.) 10.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg
PF Marquise Gray (6-8 So.) 8.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg
C Goran Suton (6-10 So.) 9.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg
PG Mike Conley (6-1 Fr.) 9.6 ppg, 6.7 apg
SG Jamar Butler (6-1 Jr.) 8.0 ppg, 3.8 apg
SF Ron Lewis (6-5 Sr.) 12.2 ppg, 35.6 percent 3-pt FG
PF Ivan Harris (6-8 Sr.) 9.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg
C Greg Oden (7-1 Fr.) 15.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg