The game will be the second between the two teams in less than a week. The Buckeyes prevailed by a 63-54 score at Value City Arena in Columbus, helping keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Now, seeking to solidify a berth in the Big Dance, OSU will have to take to the hardwood against the same Spartan team and hope to again emerge with a victory.
While beating the same team twice in the same week is a daunting task within itself, history has shown that the Buckeyes have struggled to polish off MSU in back-to-back games.
With a senior-laden team, OSU defeated the Spartans in East Lansing on Feb. 22, 2006, starting what would be a three-game program winning streak against the Green and White. To find another Buckeye winning streak at the hands of the Spartans, one has to go back to the Jimmy Jackson era.
From March 3, 1991 until Feb. 29, 1992, the Buckeyes won three straight games against MSU. Overall, the Spartans lead the series 55-48 and have held the upper hand in recent years.
For those reasons, among others, the Buckeyes know they will have a tough task on their hands. But mention the statistics behind the rivalry to OSU head coach Thad Matta and he will quickly dismiss them.
"I've never been a guy that puts a whole lot of stock into ‘you can't beat a team three times' or this or that," he said. "It's like, ‘we've got to play. These are the things we've really got to do well.' "
Both teams have plenty to play for. The Buckeyes, of course, are playing for their very tournament lives. The Spartans, after splitting the regular-season series with OSU, are already assured of an NCAA Tournament berth but could have even more at stake according to head coach Tom Izzo.
"They're playing for a lot, but we're playing for a lot," he said. "They're playing for a spot, we're playing for pride. I'm not sure which one is bigger. For me right now it's our pride."
That wounded pride comes from the fact that the Spartans committed a season-high 21 turnovers in the loss, helping the Buckeyes mount their second-half comeback.
When asked why it has been so difficult for OSU to win games against the Spartans in the past few years, Matta pointed to MSU's prestigious past.
"I think it's No. 1 a great program," he said. "No. 2, they've got great players. You look at the run Michigan State's been on during the last decade, it's pretty simple that they've had some really, really good teams up there."
Both teams have known for some time now that they would draw each other in the first round of the conference tournament. As a result, Matta said his coaching staff had that in their minds as they prepared for the matchup March 9.
That does not mean they were holding back against the Spartans, however.
"I wouldn't say that we held anything back," he said. "I think what we did is looked at some things that we felt like were working and kind of stuck with those. We've gone through and said, ‘OK, what didn't we use in game one or game two that we think could be good?' The play list has grown and we'll put a couple different things in based on a feel for what we think they're going to do."
Asked what they remember about the Spartans while they were growing up, a handful of Buckeyes had different answers. Senior guard Jamar Butler mentioned Magic Johnson, sophomore guard David Lighty cited Mateen Cleaves and freshman center Kosta Koufos brought up Eric Snow.
All three had different memories of the Spartans, but Butler summed it up for his teammates.
"I don't think anything of them," he said. "I don't know about (my teammates). The one thing I do think about is all their Final Fours."
The Buckeyes do have recent experience with playing the same team in consecutive games, however. Last season, OSU finished off the regular season with a four-point road victory against Michigan and turned around and polished off the Wolverines in the second round of the Big Ten tournament by a 10-point margin.
It should be noted that OSU does hold a 1-0 edge in games played at a neutral site.
But for the Buckeyes to have success this time against the Spartans, Butler said they will need to simply be prepared both mentally and physically for what they know MSU will bring to the table.
"I respect their team and I'm pretty sure they respect us," he said. "We just know that every time we step on the floor it's going to be a battle because they're physical, they're tough and they set some good screens. That's just the way they're coached."
OSU and MSU will tip off at 2:30 p.m. in a game televised by ESPN. The winner of the game will face the winner of Wisconsin and Michigan on March 14 at 1:40 p.m.