A trip to the Big Ten Conference Tournament title game is on the line this afternoon at the United Center, as the eighth- ranked Michigan State Spartans clash with the Ohio State Buckeyes in semifinal-round action.
This is a rematch of the championship game from last year's tourney when MSU defeated the Buckeyes by a score of 68-64. Both of these teams are already locks for the NCAA Tournament, but it would still be nice to have some momentum heading into the event.
In the case of the second-seeded Buckeyes, they are currently riding a six- game win streak thanks to their 71-50 thrashing of Nebraska in the quarterfinals on Friday. Ohio State, which has made it to the title tilt in each of the last four years and six of the last seven, has won this event four times, most recently in 2011 with a 71-60 triumph over Penn State.
As for the third-seeded Spartans, tournament champs three times, they were caught in a tight game on Friday but managed to pull out a 59-56 victory versus Iowa. The win was the third straight for the team after it had bowed in three consecutive outings.
The teams split their two regular-season meetings, each winning at home as MSU posted a 59-56 triumph back in January, and the Buckeyes returned the favor the following month in a 68-60 decision, which means the all-time series now stands at 61-53 in favor of MSU.
The winner this time around will be heading to the championship game on Sunday to clash with the survivor of the Wisconsin/Indiana meeting.
Gary Harris was a perfect 4-of-4 at the free-throw line for MSU on Friday, his most important two conversions coming in the final minute in the win over Iowa in the quarterfinals, Harris finished with 13 points, matched by Keith Appling, but the pair combined to shoot just 2-of-10 from 3-point range, the team hitting a disappointing 3-of-15 on the outside overall. Adreian Payne handled the action in the paint for an MSU squad that shot only 38.6 percent from the field, with his 18 points and game-high 10 rebounds.
A 56.2 percent shooter from the floor on the season, Payne is first on the unit in rebounding (7.5 rpg) and third in scoring (10.4 ppg) after 32 games. Further up on the list for points are Appling (13.5 ppg) and Harris (13.2 ppg), the latter hitting on 41.4 percent behind the 3-point line.
After a hotly-contested first half on Friday, the Buckeyes made it look easy after the break as they outscored Nebraska by 16 points, en route to the 21- point victory. Sam Thompson and Deshaun Thomas both registered 19 points for OSU, the latter stepping up to provide a team-best nine rebounds as well, while LaQuinton Ross tallied 11 points in 19 minutes off the bench as he knocked down 3-of-4 behind the 3-point line. As a group, Ohio State was credited with hitting 9-of-17 out on the perimeter.
Primarily a defensive-minded team, which has held the competition to only 58.4 ppg this season, the Buckeyes have only one double-digit scorer, but he's certainly a good one in Thomas (19.7 ppg). One of the top offensive threats in the Big Ten, Thomas leads the Buckeyes with 62 3-point baskets and at the same time is also the top man on the glass with 6.2 rpg to help give the squad an advantage of almost four boards per game.