Three Questions on Ohio State at Michigan State

Posted by Jonathan Batuello & Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 7th, 2014

The Big Ten already gave us a Top 25 match-up over the weekend, but tonight it rewards us with a top five game, as No. 3 Ohio State travels to No. 5 Michigan State for a 9:00 PM tip at the Breslin Center. Both teams started the conference slate at 2-0 and this game could be instrumental in how the race eventually shakes out. This is especially important when you consider that both of these teams will play Wisconsin only once at the Kohl Center (Bo Ryan thanks the schedule-makers), so any loss is huge. To get ready for the Big Ten’s biggest game of the year so far, Big Ten microsite writers Deepak Jayanti and Jonathan Batuello got together to answer three key questions going into the game.

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they host Ohio State in the biggest game of the young Big Ten season tonight (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne will be key inside for the Spartans as they host Ohio State in the biggest game of the young Big Ten season tonight (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

1. Michigan State likes to get into transition while Ohio State would prefer to win with its defense. So, who sets and controls the pace in this game?

  • Deepak Jayanti: Last season, the average number of possessions over the three games between these two teams was 60. The average number of possessions per game in Division I basketball was 65.1, so clearly things tend to slow down when these two defensive-minded teams face off. The Buckeyes’ depth at the guard position will create issues for Michigan State’s Keith Appling because there will be fresh legs guarding him throughout and preventing him from picking up the tempo in transition. Between Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson, Thad Matta will rotate his guards against the Michigan State backcourt to help dictate the overall tempo. Without those easy transition baskets, Appling will have to beat Craft off the dribble in the half-court which could be challenging and give an advantage to Ohio State in this game.
  • Jonathan Batuello: Michigan State would love to have its guards get out on the break to limit Ohio State’s defense getting set, but it’s likely that this game will slow down. The biggest reason for this is that both teams play smart offensive basketball that leads to highly efficient scoring. It is much more challenging for teams to get out in transition when your opponent converts, and Ohio State boasts an effective field goal percent of 53.7 percent (45th nationally) and Michigan State is even better at 55.2 percent (18th). For Sparty to push tempo it needs turnovers and missed shots, and Ohio State doesn’t commit many miscues (approximately 10 per game) nor have many ice cold shooting nights. Therefore, expect Michigan State to focus on winning the game using smart possessions instead of trying to create extra ones.

2. Neither team is particularly deep, but can one team’s bench be expected to make a big impact or step up if there is foul trouble?

  • DJ: While defensive intensity has been a trademark of Thad Matta’s teams, offensive depth has sometimes been found lacking because he prefers to run a tight rotation in the Big Ten season. Outside of the occasional offensive explosion by Sam Thompson, the Buckeyes don’t have anybody else to rely upon for scoring outside of starters Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross and Shannon Scott. The Spartans have the clear edge in this category and it could be a huge factor tonight. Both Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine are effective off the bench because each fits in well within the half-court offense. While Trice shoots an effective 44 percent from beyond the arc, Valentine can do a little bit of everything from hitting the open shot, controlling the ball in the half-court, and defending the opposition’s best wings. If Appling gets into foul trouble, his backups can comfortably run the offense as long as Gary Harris and Adreian Payne bring their A-game.
  • JB: Michigan State does have better depth at the guard positions, but both of these teams need their starters to play well to win. Without much depth, this game could turn on whether either team gets in foul trouble, especially on the interior. The Spartans have Payne and the Buckeyes have Amir Williams, but after that, it’s something of a desperate situation for both. After those two, the options are Trey McDonald for the Buckeyes and Matt Costello for the Spartans, or a smaller line-up. Neither of these players scares the other and likely would have the remaining starter salivating at a chance to get to work inside. The big substitute to watch here for Ohio State, though, is Sam Thompson. The Buckeyes need the junior to take advantage of a match-up against Valentine or Branden Dawson, especially if he plays alongside Ross in the frontcourt. This forward substitution is where Ohio State has the edge and Matta will need to exploit it.

3. Michigan State is second in the conference in three-point percentage (39.3%) and Ohio State leads the nation in defensive three-point percentage (24.3%). Which one will give here, and how important is it to the outcome of this game?

  • DJ: Both teams need their three-point shooting to click in order to be effective on the offensive end. When Gary Harris hits a couple of shots in the early going, he becomes much more comfortable attacking the basket. Similarly, Ohio State’s Ross needs to hit his long-range shots, otherwise he could struggle for the rest of the game. His bread and butter on the offensive end is to quickly roll off a pick at the top of the key and use his quick release to nail a three-pointer. Teams that take away his three-ball usually cause him to struggle to find his game in the half-court. In terms of defense, the Buckeyes’ backcourt gives them the edge in this game because they can use their versatility to lock down Harris and Appling on the perimeter. Once Harris’ shooting is limited, the Spartans will have to rely on Payne to pick up the scoring in the paint against the weaker OSU front line.
  • JB: The three-point line is definitely more important to Michigan State. It needs to connect on a reasonable number of threes to win against Ohio State’s defense. The Spartans’ ugly loss to North Carolina was caused in part when it shot less than 30 percent from distance. Because of its top-ranked defense, Ohio State has shown it can win without connecting from deep as evidenced in its 3-of-18 effort at Marquette, 3-of-18 against Notre Dame, and 4-of-22 performance at Purdue. That is three wins against good competition while shooting less than 20 percent from distance because Ohio State has Craft’s ability to penetrate and other players who can create their own shot. Michigan State will needs to shoot well to win as Harris and Travis Trice come off screens, while Ohio State has players all over the court who can find better shots off the dribble.
Jonathan Batuello (61 Posts)

Jonathan Batuello is a journalist working out of Indiana and Big Ten correspondent for Rush the Court. Follow his Twitter account (@jcbatuello) for Big Ten basketball, Indiana high school sports and how to cope with losing at fantasy football.

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