Preview: Ohio State at Michigan State - Aaron Craft Looks To Slow Down Keith Appling

Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE

The Biggest Matchup of the Early B1G Season Has #3 Ohio State at #5 Michigan State.

By the Numbers:

Ohio State

Team

Michigan State

15-0

Record

13-1

#3

Rankings

#5

6

RPI

12

2

BPI

11

1

KenPom

5

2

Sagarin

3

Jan. 7th, 2014 - Breslin Center - East Lansing, Michigan

9:00 PM EST - ESPN/WatchESPN

Skinny:

This marquee matchup links two teams that should be fighting for #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament come March. A true Top 5 matchup. One of the top 3 or 4 games for the entire B1G slate and the biggest of the early conference games. There should be at least 4 All-Big Ten Players on the court Tuesday night.

Michigan State is on a 6 game win-streak, including a thumping of a slumping Hoosier team. The Spartans only loss came at home to North Carolina. Ohio State is without a loss on the season. They will follow up the 84-53 thrashing of the Cornhuskers. This will easily be the toughest opponent the Buckeyes have faced.

Projected Starting Lineups:

Players to Watch:

Aaron Craft: The senior. The heart, the energy for the Buckeyes. And most importantly, the defensive leader. Craft is averaging 9.3 points and 4.9 assists per game. Craft is also averaging 2.5 steals per game. He will be keyed on Appling most of the game, and if Gary Harris is on fire he may be required to put out the flames.

LaQuinton Ross: Ross leads the Buckeyes in scoring with 13.6 points per game. He can also hit the boards with 6.0 rebounds per game. Arguably the biggest thing Ross adds to OSU is on the defensive end, where his length and athleticism can disrupt opponents and prevent them from gaining good scoring opportunities. He can be inconsistent at times, but already has three games on the season with 20+ points.

Keith Appling: Appling is the heart of this team so far this season. He is undoubtably having the best season of his career. His scoring is up, shooting percentage up, assists up, turnovers down. He is the difference and is the key to MSU making a run in the NCAA tournament.

Adreian Payne: Payne is in contention for B1G POTY. Payne is averaging 16.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He has doubled his assists per game from last season. Payne's post presence and his ability to hit the jumper is undeniable, the skills and vision he possesses with the ball in his hands is what makes him so dangerous.

Staff Comments:

Ohio State Perspective by Thomas Beindit (@tbeindit): This is a very good Buckeye team. Not only is Ohio State ranked #3 in the nation and undefeated on the year, but they are doing it in dominating fashion. The team is rated #1 according to KenPom and has one of if not the best defense in the nation. Even if you can somehow manage to get through Ohio State's length and athleticism on defense, they can put up points with Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and LaQuinton Ross. Coming into East Lansing, this is going to be a tough game, but certainly not a game that Ohio State cannot win. Each of the last few games between OSU and MSU have been close and OSU won on the road in East Lansing just under two years ago to clinch a share of the Big Ten title in 2012 that Spartans fans will continue to hope to forget. This is also a team that has already won on the road (Marquette) and has plenty of veteran leadership. This will be no easy task, but OSU has to feel they have more than a fighter's chance in this one.

Michigan State Perspective by Tim Beck: Michigan State is on roll. Their last 5 games they have crushed the opponent. I saw the UNC loss coming a mile away. They were not playing nearly hard enough for Izzo to be happy. They were just not playing well. After that loss, it seems things have changed drastically. MSU is playing like the top team in the B1G, and we will find out Tuesday if they are worthy. Appling will need to have a monster game, the Spartans cannot afford to have him do his disappearing acts on the big stage. He has a tough matchup against Craft, and the last couple of times he has struggled running the offense against him. Adreian Payne should be a matchup nightmare for Amir Williams. Another key matchup for the Spartans will be Denzel Valentine against Lenzelle Smith, Jr. If Valentine can hold his own against Smith it should be a good omen for the Spartans. The Izzone will be fired up and ready to rattle the Buckeyes.

Prediction:

Michigan State and Ohio State. Both teams are arguably playing their best ball of the season. Michigan State with one loss earlier in the season. Ohio State undefeated. We've seen this scenario somewhere... like in another sport in Indy? A battle of the Titans. Which team is standing after the dust settles? It is very hard to win on the road in the B1G, especially against a top team. Especially at Breslin. Michigan State by 5.

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