Thad Matta's Buckeyes ascended the national polls by winning 24 straight games, but their bid to become the first team to finish a season with a perfect record since Indiana in 1976, ended in Madison over the weekend with a 71-67 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers. Still, at 11-1 in Big Ten play, the now second-ranked Buckeyes hold the inside track towards the conference title, holding a two-game lead over Purdue and Wisconsin heading down the stretch.
Tom Izzo's Spartans would like nothing better than to keep the Buckeyes in the loss column and in turn provide his struggling squad with a much needed boost as the regular season winds down. Michigan State has lost five of its last seven games overall, but does enter this contest off a victory, topping Penn State 75-57 in East Lansing last week. The victory evened MSU's conference mark at 6-6, a disappointing ledger for a team that was supposed to vie for a Big Ten crown this season.
The Spartans own a 58-50 series advantage, but Ohio State has won the last two meetings and holds a 36-16 advantage in games played in Columbus.
Michigan State had suffered some offensive woes in recent back-to-back losses at Iowa (72-52) and Wisconsin (82-56), but found its touch this past weekend against Penn State. The Spartans poured in 75 points and did so shooting an efficient .524 from the field. Draymond Green was masterful in the victory, becoming the third player in school history to record a triple-double (joining Magic Johnson and Charlie Bell), posting 15 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists. Green was aided by veteran star Kalin Lucas, who erupted for 24 points, while Delvon Roe netted 15 himself. Despite the offensive performance against the Nittany Lions, MSU remains a defensive-minded team by nature. The Spartans are holding opponents to just 67.8 ppg this year, on .429 shooting. At the offensive end, Lucas leads a three-pronged attack with 16.2 ppg. Green has done it all though, averaging a solid 13.3 ppg, while pacing the team both in rebounding (8.5 rpg) and assists (100). Durrell Summers completes the potent trio with 13.2 ppg.
The Buckeyes had their sights set on a 25th straight victory over the weekend, but the final 13 minutes of the game proved to be a nightmare for OSU, which relinquished a double-digit lead to the Badgers in a stunning turn of events. The loss spoiled a strong offensive outing from guard William Buford, who finished with a team-high 21 points. Freshman phenom Jared Sullinger recorded yet another double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds, but despite the team shooting 54.3 percent from the floor overall, OSU failed to stop Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor, who propelled the Badgers to victory late. A serious candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, as well as national accolades, Sullinger is the driving force on this team. He leads the Buckeyes in both scoring (18.0 ppg) and rebounding (10.3 rpg), while shooting .569 from the field. The 6-9 youngster gets plenty of perimeter support from the likes of guards Buford (13.9 ppg), David Lighty (12.3 ppg) and Jon Diebler (11.1 ppg).
The Buckeyes return home following a tough loss to the Badgers. This team is not built for lengthy lulls, so expect a renewed effort. If OSU gets up on the Spartans, look for the hometown team to finish strong and get back to its winning ways.
GAME NOTES: The Ohio State Buckeyes are in unfamiliar territory, as the last unbeaten team in the country fell over the weekend and must now try to get back into the win column, as OSU plays host to the Michigan State Spartans this evening in Big Ten action from Value City Arena in Columbus.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Value City Arena (18,809) -- Columbus, Ohio. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Michigan St. 10-2, Ohio St. 16-0. Away Record: Michigan St. 1-6, Ohio St. 8-1. Neutral Record: Michigan St. 3-2, Ohio St. 0-0. Conference Record: Michigan St. 6-6, Ohio St. 11-1. Series Record: Michigan State leads, 58-50.