With the light part of their Big Ten schedule behind them and several stiff challenges awaiting, we’ll soon find out just what the Michigan State Spartans are made of in 2013. After departing Happy Valley with a relatively painless win (other than for a hotel wall), the Spartans return home for a big date with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Recently, Ohio State punched the Michigan Wolverines in the mouth at home, ruining their undefeated standing. That, in addition to their record and top fifteen ranking, should provide fans with quite a showdown to enjoy on Saturday afternoon at the Breslin Center. Ohio State ruined Michigan State’s senior day a year ago, so the Spartans will be looking for more revenge this time around. Spartan Jump Shots is finally ready to spread the floor for an important game.
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: A Payne possessed.
All joking about his early morning scuffle with teammate Branden Dawson aside, Adreian Payne looked like a different man against Penn State, scoring a career high 20 points with seven big rebounds, three on the offensive glass. Payne also got to the line 10 times, making seven free throws. That was a welcome performance, and very active showing from Payne, who sometimes doesn’t do enough to impact the game as a whole. Last year, in three meetings against the Buckeyes, Payne scored 29 points combined while making plenty of big defensive plays. He looked to take the games with his home state’s team personally. Already knowing what they’ll get out of Derrick Nix, this kind of effort from Payne will help Michigan State win again, and survive the battle with Sam Thompson, Amir Williams and Deshaun Thomas.
Ohio State’s Key To Victory: Find an offense outside of Thomas.
Though Ohio State beat Michigan, Thad Matta likely wasn’t pleased with the end result, especially on the offensive side of things in the second half. The Buckeyes were far too one dimensional, appearing to go exclusively through Thomas. Though he’s quite capable of carrying the team, the fact that no other Buckeye starters or reserves made it to double figures is concerning, especially as Ohio State hits the road. Aaron Craft is a defensive stopper, but other than him, somebody has to step up and become a scorer if the Buckeyes want to survive Michigan State’s depth.
Michigan State and Ohio State Players To Watch: Gary Harris and Evan Ravenel.
Garnering more minutes given Dawson’s temporary appearance in Tom Izzo’s doghouse, Harris delivered a consistent performance against the Nittany Lions, scoring 14 points and not hitting his “freshman wall” just yet. How will he do in his first true Big Ten test? If Harris is able to give the Spartans a big effort point wise while impacting the game, Michigan State will be in great shape to win, considering the balance they showed against Penn State. Freshmen, it is said, often don’t know any better. Perhaps Harris won’t realize the magnitude of Saturday’s game, and will contribute another consistent scoring effort.
Last year, Ravenel was an unheralded reason the Buckeyes were able to survive East Lansing. He chipped in seven points and was a force in the middle late in the game, contributing clutch rebounds. This year, he will be just as important to the Buckeyes, who need to withstand Michigan State’s beef and length down low with Nix, Payne and perhaps Dawson on dribble drives. Should Ravenel give Ohio State more than his usual point and rebound output, the Buckeyes could steal their second consecutive win at the Breslin Center.
Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 7-17, Michigan State’s three point shooting total against Penn State, one of their better long distance shooting performances of the year. In bigger games, often times the biggest differentiating factor is which team is able to hit three pointers more consistently. In last year’s three meetings against the Buckeyes, the Spartans were often that team, which helped them to a respectable 2-1 record against Ohio State. If Harris, Keith Appling, and Travis Trice are able to bury some big shots, the Buckeyes might find coming from behind on the road to be a more impossible feat this time around.
Intangibles: The “fight.”
Over the past 48 hours, we’ve heard the ramblings of plenty of talking heads discussing what a hotel shoving match between Branden Dawson and Aderian Payne actually means. Is it a sign of fractured team trust? Do the 2013 Spartans hate each other? Is it a galvanizing act? Certainly, whatever happened looked to inspire Payne, so might it work for Dawson as well? Likely, too much is being made of this event. Watch for the Spartans to have put a tiny bit of midweek turmoil behind them and play focused in an important game.
Prediction: Given their identical styles and the similar, “I just don’t know” feeling regarding both teams, this is perhaps the toughest game of the season to call. Quietly, other coaches and players would admit Michigan State is playing better basketball than any of their fans would think. They’ve survived some close games lately, which should help them in a tough fight against the Buckeyes. As usual, nothing is easy, but the Spartans manage to take down Ohio State at home. The Buckeyes aren’t ready for the road, and Michigan State, led by Payne, Harris and Appling, pounce on them early and often, this time surviving a late charge.
Michigan State 73, Ohio State 67
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax