Injury-depleted Buckeyes preparing to face a renewed Michigan State team

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Michigan State Spartans forward Aaron Henry (0) is guarded by Ohio State Buckeyes forward Seth Towns (31) during Sunday's NCAA Division I Big Ten Conference men's basketball game at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio on January 31, 2021.

The names on the uniforms will be the same. The colors of the jerseys will be different, but that won’t be the only difference between the first and second matchups between Ohio State and Michigan State this season.

Twenty-five days after the Buckeyes led the Spartans for 37:13 of a 79-62 win at Value City Arena, the two Big Ten foes close the season series Thursday night with a significantly different vibe around at least one of the programs. As it prepares to host No. 4 Ohio State, Michigan State will enter the game having won two straight and with a chance of resurrecting their NCAA Tournament hopes.

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Lately, at least, the Spartans look like who we thought they were when the season began.

“They look the preseason top-10 team in the country that they were heading into the season,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said Wednesday afternoon.

The last time these teams met, it was the final day of January and both seemed headed in wildly divergent directions. In its second game back from a 20-day COVID-imposed layoff, Michigan State would suffer its third of four straight losses while the Buckeyes won their sixth game in their last seven.

Ohio State kept winning from there, stretching its streak to seven games until taking a 92-87 home loss to No. 3 Michigan on Sunday. One day earlier, the Spartans had gone to Indiana, trailed by as many as 13 points early but won going away, 78-71, on an afternoon where their probability of winning had dipped as low as 5.6% according to KenPom.com.

They followed that Tuesday night with a wire-to-wire beatdown of No. 5 Illinois. In both games, while the Spartans played solid defense, their offensive made significant strides. Michigan State has had two of its four most efficient games in Big Ten play in its two most recent wins, and the wins against the Hoosiers and Fighting Illini mark its two best two-point shooting games of the conference season.

In the nine-point win against the Illini, Michigan State attempted a season-low eight three-pointers.

“They’re just playing really physical,” Holtmann said. “They’re excellent defensively. They’re playing a little bit of a different rotation. They’ve got multiple bigs they cycle in where they’re not concerned with them getting in foul trouble. They’re just in a better rhythm offensively.”

The physicality component will challenge the Buckeyes, who will be without senior forward Kyle Young as he recovers from a concussion suffered in that loss to the Wolverines.

“We’re going to have to have guys really raise their level,” Holtmann said. “We’re going to have to have some guys probably play more minutes than they’ve played all year. We’re going to have to have a commitment on that (defensive) end, on the glass, that is better than in any game all year.

“That’s why I look at this game and say it’s as much of a challenge (as we’ve faced), because of the team we’re facing and without Kyle.”

A win at the Breslin Center would give the Buckeyes seven Big Ten victories this year, their most since they had that total in the 2010-11 season. Ohio State has lost seven straight road games to the Spartans, with its last win a memorable, 72-70 victory on March 4, 2012 when William Buford’s jumper with a second remaining gave the Buckeyes a share of their most recent Big Ten title.

In those seven losses, Michigan State has been ranked in five of them and the average margin of defeat has been 8.9 points.

“The reality of who Michigan State is isn’t lost on anybody,” Holtmann said. “I think everybody understands you’re playing a really talented team and a hall of fame coach and a program that’s has as successful a run as anyone in the last 20 years.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy