The 24-6 Ohio State Buckeyes will travel to take on the 24-6 Michigan State Spartans in a huge Big Ten battle to close out the regular season. Michigan State has a one-game edge in the conference, so this is a huge game for Ohio State.
Should the Buckeyes win, they will clinch a share of the Big Ten title for the third consecutive season. The Spartans shut down Ohio State when the two teams met earlier in the conference slate and won easily by 10 points. With all that in mind, the Buckeyes should be motivated.
Michigan State has clinched a share of the Big Ten title and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament no matter what, but the Spartans would still love to flex their muscles against their rival. This game could have a lot to do with momentum heading into the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments respectively.
Here is everything you need to know for the last major Big Ten clash of the regular season.
Where: Jack Breslin Student Events Center in East Lansing, Mich.
When: Sunday, March 4 at 4 p.m. ET
Watch: CBS and BTN
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
Listen: 97.1 FM (Ohio State) and WJR 760 AM (Michigan State)
Betting Line: TBD
Ohio State Key Injuries (According to USA Today): No Injuries to Report
Michigan State Key Injuries (According to USA Today): No Injuries to Report
What's at Stake?
Both teams are obviously firmly in the NCAA tournament, so a loss wouldn't hurt either side too much, but both certainly would love to enter the postseason on a winning note. The game is much more important for the Buckeyes because they need to win in order to clinch a share of the conference title, while the Spartans own a share either way.
At the same time, Michigan State would obviously like to assert its dominance over Ohio State once again. The Spartans took care of them in their first meeting, so the Buckeyes probably feel as though they have some unfinished business to take care of. A win for Michigan State would make it the unquestioned top team in the Big Ten, though.
What They're Saying
Seeing as a win ensures the Buckeyes a share of the Big Ten title, Sunday's game is a huge one for them. Michigan State is already ensured the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament and a share of the conference title, but winning the game is important to Ohio State, per Bob Baptist of the Columbus Dispatch:
"It means a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw more fire in our guys’ eyes," said guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., who had a career-high seven of the Buckeyes’ 20 assists (last game against Northwestern), their most in 13 games.
"Tonight was a good game for us as a team," Smith said. "Everybody contributed. We played our basketball. We’ve been getting away from that these last few games and we’ve hit rough patches. But I think we’re finally back and understanding our system.
"We’re dangerous as a team when everyone comes out and contributes. You can’t worry about shutting one person down."
Most Important Player to Watch: Jared Sullinger
There has been a ton of excellent players in major college basketball this season, but it wouldn't be much of a stretch to call Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger the most dominant. Not only are his overall numbers of 17 points, 9.3 rebounds and a block per game impressive, but Sullinger passes the eyeball test, as he almost always looks like the best player on the floor.
Sullinger was the only Buckeye who showed up in their 58-48 loss to Michigan State earlier in the season, but he will have to be even better on Sunday. The Spartans don't really have an answer to Sullinger inside, but there are very few teams in the nation that do. If Sullinger is his usual, dominant self and he gets some support from his teammates this time, then the Buckeyes should be able to pull off a big road win.
Key Matchup: Aaron Craft vs. Keith Appling
With stars like Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Deshaun Thomas and Draymond Green in the game, it's very easy to forget about the point guards. Aaron Craft runs the point for Ohio State and Keith Appling does the same for Michigan State, and while they often don't get a lot of credit, they are responsible for orchestrating two of the better offenses in the nation.
Craft is averaging 8.6 points and 4.5 assists per game, while Appling is going for 11.5 points and 3.8 assists per contest. Those numbers don't jump off the page by any means, but they are the players who get the superstars involved, and that makes them extremely important. As anonymous as these players may seem, the one who gets the upper hand is quite likely to win his team the game.
Prediction: Ohio State 63, Michigan State 60