With a win over Penn State Thursday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes will face Michigan State for the third time in their last 5 games. The results of the first two match-ups were pretty similar as the Spartans took down the Buckeyes by 19 on the road and 15 in East Lansing. Friday nigh, Ohio State will look to turn the tables and upset the #2 seeded Spartans.
Let's take a glance at what you should be watching for in the third meeting between the two schools.
1. Ohio State Needs To Win
The Buckeyes are on the outside looking in of virtually every projected NCAA Tournament field. The good news for Ohio State is that they play the #2 ranked team in the country Friday night. If the Buckeyes can somehow squeak out a win against the Spartans it would do wonders for their resume.
Right now, Ohio State has just one win against a team that finished in the top-6 of the Big Ten standings. This win came toward the end of the season against a staggering Iowa team. Michigan State has won 10 of their last 11 games and is regarded as one of the most talented teams in the nation. While it will be an extremely tough feat for Thad Matta's team, they have no other path to the NCAA Tournament than beating the Spartans.
2. Can Anyone Guard Denzel Valentine?
There's a reason Denzel Valentine was named Big Ten Player of the Year along with a pile of other accolades. In the first two match-ups between these teams, the senior scored a combined 44 points on 15-26 shooting (9-13 from deep). He also added 21 assists to just 4 turnovers and 9 rebounds. The Lansing native is so efficient on offense and so smart he is a nightmare to guard.
One of the candidates to guard Valentine would be Jae'Sean Tate, but the 6'4'' 230 pound forward is out for the remainder of the season. He underwent season ending surgery and has not played since February 20th. Tate was unavailable for the previous two match-ups as well. The Buckeyes, however, do have a long starting lineup, and need to give Valentine as many different looks as possible.
JaQuan Lyle and Marc Loving will certainly spend some time tracking the talented senior, but it's important for Ohio State to make it a team effort to stop Valentine. Finding a way to frustrate Valentine will be the key for the Buckeyes to stay within striking distance. In the end, it's pick your poison with Denzel because if you double team him he will almost always make the right play and find the open teammate. In some ways, it might be easier for Ohio State to let Valentine get his while frustrating him by not letting him get his teammates involved.
3. Michigan State is the Big Ten Tournament favorite
Indiana won the Big Ten regular season. They were spectacular down the stretch and played great on both ends of the floor. Tom Creans team deserves all the credit that comes with an out-right Big Ten Championship. The Hoosiers, however, only played Michigan State once and it ended in an 88-69 victory for the Spartans. Tom Izzo has his team playing great team basketball and can earn a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament if they win the Big Ten Tournament.
With Bryn Forbes knocking down threes along with Matt Costello's impact down low, Denzel Valentine has all the help he needs and more to get this team back to the Final Four. There is a reason this win would go so far toward Ohio State earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. That's because Michigan State is the best all around team in the Big Ten, and it's going to take a perfect storm for the Buckeyes to knock them off.
The key stat to look at is three point shooting. In the first two match-ups, the Spartans shot a combined 22-38 from deep. If this continues, Ohio State has no chance. If the Buckeyes, however, can limit michigan State's open looks from downtown and knock down a few of their own, they can keep it close and possibly steal the game on a neutral court.