Buckeyes, Spartans Ready For Lone Matchup

After today's contest, Ohio State will have played each Big Ten team at least once. No. 11 Michigan State serves as the lone conference foe to not have faced the Buckeyes this season, and the game comes at a crucial point in the season as both teams fight for a shot at a Big Ten championship.

Both teams are 14 games into Big Ten play, but Ohio State's road contest against Michigan State marks the first contest between the two teams this season.

Fittingly, it is a game that will play a key role in determining who brings home the conference title. Entering the weekend, the top four teams in the conference were separated by a game and a half with the Spartans holding a half-game lead on everyone else. OSU's nine-game conference winning streak came to an end Wednesday night against Purdue, while the Spartans have won two straight after a three-game losing streak.

MSU head coach Tom Izzo said this scenario for the two teams is more or less what he expected when the season began.

"I do know they are playing awfully well and I think at the beginning of the year I thought they would be one of the more improved teams," he said. "What Thad has done a good job of is playing with such limited minutes for other people. They're almost like the iron five. It's been incredible."

On Monday, Izzo said he had not yet seriously studied any OSU film but said he had occasionally watched the Buckeyes on television. Friday, OSU head coach Thad Matta said the same was true on his end.

Although Izzo said he felt it was an unusual situation in that regard, Matta said his approach to the season would be the same for this game as the previous 14.

"You've got your routine as a coach and the players have a routine," he said. "This is the next opponent. You know you're going to play 18 of them and when the game ends, you come in and they queue up the film and away you go."

After dropping a three-point decision at home against the Boilermakers, the Buckeyes entered the weekend no longer controlling their own destiny in their quest to win a conference title. A win against the Spartans is necessary for OSU to have any realistic chance of bringing home a championship.

Matta said he has not addressed that situation with his players.

" ‘It's a big game because it's the next game' is how I view it," he said. "I think these guys are more dialed in about who is the next opponent: ‘It's Michigan State. They're a great basketball team, but we've got to play them.' That's how it is."

The Buckeyes have not won at East Lansing since the 2006-07 season. The only active member of that year's team on this year's roster is junior forward David Lighty. Asked about the environment at MSU, Lighty said, "It's crazy. It's hectic up there. They have a lot of atmosphere. They heckle you a lot but that's just college basketball. When you go there, you feel what college basketball is about."

OSU's last two road games against the Spartans have been early-January contests during which school has not been in session, according to junior guard Evan Turner. As a result, Turner said he feels the environment will be unlike what he has previously experienced in two losses at the Breslin Center.

Both teams have played without their key players this season. OSU lost Turner for six games to a back injury, while the Spartans lost reigning Big Ten player of the year Kalin Lucas for parts of two games while he battled an ankle injury.

"With (Lucas) or without him, they're still a good team," Lighty said. "They've been playing real good basketball and he's getting healthier and healthier each day so that's just going to make them that much better."

Conversely, Izzo classified OSU's starters as ironmen for the fact that the Buckeyes are guaranteed to play no more than six players on any given night.

"Turner is a great player and he's got the perfect combination with the shooters on the wings and a guy like (Dallas) Lauderdale who can bang inside," the coach said. "The only thing they don't have is great depth, but everything else they've done a marvelous job."

With Lucas and Turner ready to battle, Lighty said there are a few similarities between the two teams but one key difference.

"They like to push it up and down like we do," the OSU forward said. "They like to get real physical down low on the block and in the post. They're like us, pretty much, and they're from the state up north so I'm sure we really don't like them. We've got to get a win."

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