The late game in today's quarterfinals, this matchup includes two teams that have already essentially punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. While each team are locks for the postseason, they both still have potential to dramatically improve their seeding. Even more so as the winner will most likely face Maryland and both of these teams are capable enough to make it to Sunday and the title game. Michigan State will be well rested as the Spartans had a double bye to open the tournament, while Ohio State had to hold off a pesky Minnesota program that almost made a second half rally against the Buckeyes.
The last time these two teams played was a thriller on Valentine's Day when, naturally, a player named Denzel Valentine hit the game winner in the closing seconds. Ohio State went into East Lansing and came back from a nine point second half deficit to make it a game but couldn't overcome a poor performance from the line (38.5%) as they dropped their only regular season matchup to the Spartans by 3. Guard Denzel Valentine stole the show the last time these two teams took the court, hitting on 5 of 9 from beyond the arc and leading all scorers with 17 points on the day.
When Ohio State Has the Ball
The Buckeyes are hoping they regained some momentum after holding off the Gophers last night. The regular season finale was definitely a dud for the Buckeyes, getting blown out on their homecourt by Wisconsin and struggling to slow down the Badgers offensively. Luckily for Ohio State their star freshman D'Angelo Russell has been playing lights out recently, scoring at least 17 points every game this month. If Ohio State wants to advance to the conference semifinals it'll start with Russell, who is straight up the lifeforce behind Ohio State's offense. When Russell is feeling it and scoring this Ohio State team is deadly, but when he's struggling it's hard for them to get it going. The Buckeyes could definitely use more 21 point nights from senior Shannon Scott, who had one of his best games this season last night. On the defensive side of the ball Ohio State will need to find a way to slow down the Spartans from outside after State hit on 46.7% of their threes in their first matchup this season.
When Michigan State Has the Ball
The Spartans are entering the tournament on a two game winning streak thanks to Travis Trice, who has averaged 24 points over that two game stretch. Trice and Valentine have anchored an explosive backcourt and Michigan State's ability to shoot from outside has proven problematic for opponents throughout the season. Of course Michigan State hasn't shot very well the last two games, but they've done just enough on offense while limiting turnovers. It'll be interesting to see how forward Branden Dawson plays today as he was huge in the last game versus Ohio State (15 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 assists). The senior is coming off of an injury suffered during the Purdue game and was just recently cleared to play Friday. Either way, Michigan State would benefit on having a better night from their frontcourt as their guards tend to be trigger happy and living and dying by the three isn't exactly a perfect strategy when it's lose and go home.
Michigan State shoots an atrocious 62.7% from the charity stripe, which puts them 339th in the nation out of 351 teams. In the Spartans six Big Ten losses this year they've shot a dreadful 55.7% from the line, including nights were they shot 4 of 13, 4 of 9, 7 of 18 and 15 of 25. Michigan State's inability to hit free throws has created massive headaches, including struggling to close out games. Look no further than State's last game when they finished the game versus Indiana shooting 2 of 6 from the line in the last 30 seconds, almost letting Indiana steal a win. The reality is if Michigan State wants to make a run in Chicago and especially in the NCAA Tournament, they're going to need to improve dramatically here.
Of course the Buckeyes aren't that much better from the line either, only hitting on 67.3% of their attempts (246th). The Buckeyes narrowly lost to Michigan State earlier in the year on a late shot in the closing seconds and one can only wonder how things would have fared if Ohio State had shot better than 5 of 13 from the line. When all is said and done whichever team makes free throws very well may win this game.