If college basketball games were 41 minutes long, Ohio State might now be regretting their close encounter last Saturday against Michigan State. But as it is, games are only 40 minutes long and the Buckeyes survived a 66-64 scare against the Spartans.
Today in East Lansing, Michigan State hopes to return the favor at the Breslin Center as Mateen Cleaves will be honored by having his jersey retired in front of the home crowd. The Buckeyes are coming off a convincing 78-60 victory against Purdue Wednesday evening in Mackey Arena.
Ohio State (19-3, 7-1 Big Ten) is now No. 4 in the nation and tied with Wisconsin for the Big Ten lead with the Badgers' loss against Indiana earlier in the week. Michigan State (17-6, 4-4), however, has lost two consecutive games and hopes to get back into their winning ways on a home floor that's been extremely kind to them this season (14-0).
The key for Ohio State Saturday is relatively clear: stop Drew Neitzel. The junior left-handed scorer blitzed the Buckeyes for 24 second-half points last week in Columbus. The point guard turned shooter has averaged 18.3 points a game this season for Michigan State while shooting 39.4 percent from the floor.
His 29 points on 9-of-20 shooting was mostly capped off by his second half 8-of-13 outburst.
Ohio State let a 20-point lead slip away in that game, and needed a missed 3-pointer by Maurice Joseph at the buzzer to preserve their victory. The Buckeyes are aiming for a second win against Michigan State within a week's time, but also a second straight win at the Breslin Center. Ohio State had a surprising 79-68 win in East Lansing late last season, snapping a 14-year drought.
With Wisconsin losing, Ohio State can take a position in the driver's seat to win the conference outright by winning another game on the road. It would be the second win against an undefeated home opponent in four days, and also escape one of the few remaining opponents that expect to threaten to knock Ohio State off before their Feb. 25 meeting with the Badgers in Columbus.
In addition to Neitzel, the Spartans are again counting on freshman forward Raymar Morgan of Canton McKinley to reign supreme. Morgan scored 14 points last Saturday in his return to Columbus for the first time since the Bulldogs won the Division I State Championship on the Value City Arena floor last March.
For the second time, Ohio State will likely pound the ball inside to 7-1 center Greg Oden. Last week, the freshman had mixed results against a rotation of four Spartan frontcourt players. In the first half, Oden scored 11 points en route to the Buckeyes' 43-23 lead. However, the Spartans limited his touches in the second half, although he managed to finish with 19 points.
Oden is averaging 15.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game this season. His former high school teammate and stellar Buckeye point guard Mike Conley has been fantastic for Ohio State this season, averaging 9.7 points and 6.5 assists per game. Conley is coming off a career-best 18 points against Purdue earlier in the week.
Last year's all-Big Ten selection Jamar Butler, a converted point guard in his own right, has been coming on strong lately for the Buckeyes. Butler added 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting against the Boilermakers. Since Big Ten competition began, Butler has averaged 10.8 points and 3.4 assists per game while shooting 47.4 percent and 45.7 percent from 3-point range.
What: Ohio State (19-3, 7-1 Big Ten) at Michigan State (17-6, 4-4 Big Ten)
Where: Breslin Center; East Lansing, Mich.
When: Today, 4 PM
TV: CBS Nationally televised (Verne Lundquist & Billy Packer)
Series: Michigan State 59-50 (38-14 in East Lansing)
PG Travis Walton (6-1 Soph.) - 7.0 ppg, 5.4 apg
SG Drew Neitzel (6-1 Jr.) - 18.3 ppg, 43.5 percent FG
SF Raymar Morgan (6-7 Fr.) - 11.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg
PF Goran Suton (6-10 Soph.) - 9.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg
PF Idong Ibok (6-11 Soph.) - 2.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg
PG Mike Conley (6-1 Fr.) - 9.7 ppg, 53.4 percent FG
SG Jamar Butler (6-2 Jr.) - 8.5 ppg, 40.5 percent 3-pt FG
SF Ron Lewis (6-5 Sr.) - 11.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg
PF Ivan Harris (6-8 Sr.) - 9.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg
C Greg Oden (7-1 Fr.) - 15.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg