Key Questions For Michigan State at Ohio State Today

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2014

It’s the final weekend of the regular season and teams are either jockeying for seeding or trying to get on the right side of the bubble. Later this afternoon, Michigan State will travel to Ohio State and, with both teams clearly in the NCAA Tournament field already, this game will be about building momentum for the Big Ten Tournament and beyond. Once again, RTC Big Ten writers Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the game as they each ask one another a question about the today’s match-up.

Keith Appling and the Spartans' offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Keith Appling and the Spartans’ offense try to keep the momentum going against Ohio State on Sunday. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

AM: In its last two games, Ohio State’s defense (#2 in KenPom) has underperformed against two inferior teams (Indiana and Penn State). Meanwhile, Michigan State’s offense (#18 in KenPom) has been inconsistent since the beginning of February. In the match-up between the Buckeyes’ defense vs the Spartans’ offense today, which comes out on top, and why?

BB: It’s hard to say whether Michigan State’s performance Thursday night against Iowa was simply the result of Iowa’s porous defense or a sign that the Spartans are once again fully healthy and clicking on all cylinders. Numbers like 1.26 points per possession, 58.3 percent shooting from the field, and 20 assists on 28 made fields goals, aren’t anything to take lightly, whether they were accomplished against the league’s third-worst defense in conference play or otherwise. Part of the problem for Ohio State in its two losses is that the Buckeyes let their opponents shoot 38.7 percent from three even though they forced an average of 17 turnovers. The Spartans hit 11 threes the first time these two teams played, and after witnessing Thursday’s offensive clinic, I think they’re going to get the best of the Ohio State defense. Thad Matta’s team wins on defense by eliminating the three, but Michigan State is a bad match-up because of the way they share the ball (11th in the country in assist rate), and how they can spread things out in transition with multiple shooters that can burn you. Kenny Kaminski, Travis Trice, Adreian Payne and Appling all shoot over 40 percent from distance for the season, and Gary Harris is 16-of-33 in his last four games from that distance. I think the Iowa game showed what everyone thought at the beginning of the season. Michigan State is about to go on a run, and Ohio State won’t stop them this afternoon.

BB: This is the last game of the regular season and both teams are crawling to the finish line given their recent inconsistent play. With the Big Ten title now out of reach for both, which team more needs a win to better its postseason position and why?

AM: Common wisdom would suggest that Michigan State would need this win more because they realistically have a chance at reaching the Final Four, and we can’t say the same for Ohio State. However, putting national title aspirations aside, I think a win on Sunday and a strong finish is more important for the Buckeyes as far as seeding goes. The Spartans are currently projected as a #4 or #5 seed according to most bracketologists, while the Buckeyes are currently in the #6 to #7 range. Even if Michigan State drops a seed or two, they will still have a path to the Final Four if Appling gets near 100 percent by the time the NCAA Tournament starts. But for Ohio State, if the Buckeyes lose on Sunday and suffer a bad showing in the Big Ten Tournament, they could likely drop into the dreaded #8/#9 seed game. As Nate Silver calculated, an #8 or #9 seed is almost as likely to make the Sweet Sixteen as a #16 seed. The Buckeyes haven’t been out of the Sweet Sixteen since 2008-09 and that would be a sad ending for one of the Big Ten’s most admired seniors in Aaron Craft. Today’s game is important for both squads, but it will be more important for Ohio State as Matta’s group tries to build some momentum to make a run in a bracket set up for advancement.

Alex Moscoso (170 Posts)

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