Buckeyes and Spartans square off in top-25 showdown

A marquee Big Ten Conference matchup is on tap for Sunday afternoon, as the fourth-ranked Michigan State Spartans head to Columbus to tangle with the 18th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

The squads met up earlier this season on Jan. 19 in East Lansing, with Michigan State posting a 59-56 decision to improve to 61-52 in the all-time series. However, the Buckeyes have had the advantage over the Spartans in Columbus (33-22).

Michigan State had been a winner of five in a row and 11 of 12 heading into last Tuesday's showdown with No. 1 Indiana, but with first place in the Big Ten on the line, it fell on the wrong end of a 72-68 decision in what was one of the best games of the season. Despite the loss, the Spartans are still considered an elite team, as they are 22-5 overall and 11-3 in the brutally tough Big Ten.

While Ohio State may be a few notches below Michigan State in the league standings (9-5), it is still an impressive 19-7 this season, which includes a signature win over then-No. 2 Michigan on Jan. 13 (59-53). The Buckeyes had been slipping heading into their Wednesday night bout with Minnesota, losing three of four, but got back on the winning track with a commanding 71-45 triumph.

Michigan State and Indiana spent much of last Tuesday's game within one possession of each other, and the Spartans took a 64-63 lead with just over three minutes remaining on a Derrick Nix layup, but after allowing IU to collect on offensive rebound with under a minute left, Victor Oladipo deposited the game-winning layup for the Hoosiers. In the end, MSU was ultimately plagued by a lackluster 4-of-15 showing from 3-point range. Gary Harris came up big in the setback with 19 points and three steals, while Adreian Payne tallied 17 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. The Spartans typically rely on an outstanding scoring defense, which yields just 59.6 ppg to their opponents, and their scoring offense (70.0 ppg) puts up more than enough in support. The team's top scorers come in the backcourt, with Keith Appling (13.8 ppg) and Harris (13.2 ppg) piecing together fine seasons, but its biggest advantage comes in the trenches, where Brandon Dawson (10.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 1.7 spg), Payne (9.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.3 bpg) and Derrick Nix (9.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg) have all been outstanding on both ends of the court.

The Buckeyes shot a modest 40 percent from the floor in their latest game, but it was more than enough to capture a 26-point victory, as they shot 16-of-18 from the free-throw line and played tremendous defense, holding the floundering Golden Gophers to under 30 percent from the field and forcing 24 turnovers. Deshaun Thomas has seen much better days from the field (6-of-16), but he still finished with a game-high 19 points, while Shannon Scott (11 points, five assists, three steals, three blocks) and LaQuinton Ross (10 points) both took full advantage of extended playing time off the bench. On the season, no player in the Big Ten puts up more points than Thomas, who shoots 45.3 percent from the field and 84 percent from the foul line for 20.1 ppg, while also grabbing a team-best 6.0 rpg. Lenzelle Smith, Jr. acts as the next-best scoring threat with 9.9 ppg, while Aaron Craft is a multi-faceted point guard with 9.2 ppg, 4.3 apg and nearly two steals per contest. As a team, Ohio State has nearly identical offensive (70.7 ppg) and defensive (59.0 ppg) numbers as the Spartans.