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Ohio State has been quite the Jekyll and Hyde team this season (But, what else would you expect with minimal offensive fire power?).
In the last week, they've proven as much in a 71-49 loss at Wisconsin, followed by a 71-45 victory over Minnesota. Go ahead, try to figure that one out (And no, it's not as simple as saying that the loss was on the road while the win was in Columbus).
Outside of Deshaun Thomas - Who scored 28 points, on 10-of-20 shooting in the first meeting versus MSU - we know that the Buckeyes don't really have a big scoring threat.
Back in January, while Thomas went off, MSU shut everyone else down (Lenzelle Smith was the 2nd leading scorer with 6 points). While Thomas' outburst nearly cost MSU in January, I don't think it would now, simply because the Spartans are a much more efficient offensive team since the first meeting.
"If Thomas wants to get 40 and we can win the game, I'll sign that contract right now," Tom Izzo said at his
weekly radio show. "So it really doesn't matter who gets them as long as we can win the game."
In preparation, the Spartan staff will study the January 19th game agianst the Buckeyes, along with OSU's previous five games.
Over the last five, the Buckeyes posted a 2-3 mark with wins over Minnesota and Northwestern and losses to Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.
During that stretch the Deshaun Thomas has continued to terrorize opponents, averaging 20.4 points per game. However, he's only shooting at a 40-percent clip, including 7 of 26 from long range (26.9%).
Thomas is a volume shooter, so he has the unique capability of being the Buckeye's best friend and worst enemy, all in the same game (What a deal!). So if you're Michigan State, the key with Thomas is to force him to be a jump shooter.
Even though he posted big numbers against MSU in the first go-round, he's getting over 26-percent of his points from the free throw line over the last five, where he is a 87.9-percent shooter in conference play. It's
essential to keep him out of the paint.
Thomas has taken 30.9-percent of Ohio State's field goal attempts in Big Ten play. With this Buckeye team, that equals a 9-5 conference record.
So, to Izzo's quote above, winning the game comes down to shutting down their auxillary scorers.
Against Ohio State's second and third leading scorers back on January 19th - Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft - the Spartans had their way, forcing the pair to shoot a combined 4-for-15 from the field and 3-for-10 from three-point range. No Buckeye outside of Thomas had more than two field goal makes.
If the Spartans hold Ohio State to 56 points again (or close to it), they will win again, and keep the pressure on Indiana.
FACTS AND FIGURES
-Denzel Valentine is averaging 7.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists, while shooting 16-0f-29 over the last six games. Impressive stats for a freshman who is playing three different offensive positions. In the six games prior to that, he had three made baskets and 11 turnovers.
-Freshman shooting guard Gary Harris continues to get better and better despite dealing with two bad shoulders and back spasms. Over the last six outings, Gary is averaging 18 points per game, while shooting 51.1-percent from three-point range (22-43).
-All five Spartan starters are averaging 10+ points per game in Big Ten play, led by Gary Harris at 13.8. Among those five, only Keith Appling is shooting under 47-percent from the field.
-Each of the last three games between Michigan State and Ohio State have been decided by four points or less. MSU is 7-3 on the season in games decided by five points or less.
-The Ohio State Buckeyes are 1-7 against teams ranked in the top 25. Their lone win was against Michigan.