The Michigan State Spartans will be looking to knock off the Ohio State Buckeyes once again in the Big Ten Tournament.
It was last year the Spartans won the conference tournament after downing the Buckeyes, 68-64. Michigan State will need a similar result in 2013 in order to bolster its seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
The Spartans are currently projected as a No. 3 seed, according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, despite being ranked two places higher. If Michigan State wants to move up to a No. 2 seed, it will need to beat the Buckeyes convincingly and probably win the entire tournament.
In order for Michigan State to get the better of Ohio State and avenge its loss back in February, it will need to do these three things:
Get Keith Appling Firing
When Keith Appling's on, the Spartans are extremely tough. When he struggles, Michigan State is vulnerable. It's a pretty simple concept that if a team's best player isn't at his best, the team as a whole is worse off.
Going up against a player like Aaron Craft, Appling is going to have a real test ahead of him. Craft is one of the best perimeter defenders in the conference and maybe even the entire country.
In the Spartans' three-point win back in January, Appling shot 6-of-13 for 15 points, adding four rebounds and three assists. In the rematch a month later, he was only 1-of-6 from the field, registering three points. Michigan State lost by eight points.
It's a microcosm for how the season as a whole has gone.
Appling has averaged 14.6 points a game while shooting 42.9 percent from the field in Michigan State's 25 wins. Those numbers drop to 9.7 points a game and 35.6 percent in the Spartans' seven losses.
He doesn't have to light up the box score, but Appling must be efficient on the floor if Michigan State is to make it to the final.
Stifle Aaron Craft
Much like Appling, Craft's impact isn't just felt on the box score. He's only averaging 9.6 points and 4.6 points a game. Craft is a massive part of the Buckeyes' success, though.
Aside from his very good play on the defensive end of the court, Craft is the prototype floor general. He isn't the most talented guy on the floor, but he guides the team up the court time and again, effectively setting up the offense.
Going back to Appling, he's going to need to blanket Craft and make sure that the Buckeyes guard has a difficult time finding the open man. The more comfortable Craft gets, the more effective he'll be in Ohio State's half-court offense.
When Craft struggles, the Buckeyes fail to get into gear. His shooting percentage is over a hundred points less in defeats (32.4 percent) than it is in victories (46.0 percent).
Dominate the Paint
With the combination of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, the Spartans present a matchup problem for the Buckeyes. Ohio State simply can't counter with that kind of post presence.
The Buckeyes don't have any answer for Payne and Nix should the duo start taking the game over. They're combining to average 30.0 points and 13.6 rebounds a game.
A perimeter scorer like Deshaun Thomas is going to have a strong performance against Michigan State. It's a matter of slowing the game down and working the ball into the paint to try and offset some of the effectiveness of players like Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Michigan State really needs to play up the post advantage that it has.
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