Preview: MSU prepares for first true road test as top-ranked team
Who: Ohio State University (12-4 overall, 3-0 Big Ten)
When: Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Value City Arena at the Jerome Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio
How to Watch, TV/Radio: CBS/Spartan Sports Network
It has been 33 days since the Spartans have played in a true road game, a 62-52 win at Rutgers on Dec. 5. Since then, the team has won seven straight games, registered a program record four consecutive 100-point performances and claimed the top spot in the AP poll.
As No. 1 MSU (15-1, 3-0 Big Ten) gears up for Ohio State, head coach Tom Izzo eagerly awaits to see how his team - winners of 14 straight games - performs in only its second true road game of the season.
The Buckeyes rank toward the middle or end of the pack in the Big Ten in just about every statistical category. On the opposite end, the Spartans rank No. 1 in 11 statistical categories in the conference.
The Buckeyes, however, are undefeated in conference play and are currently tied with the Spartans for the top spot in the Big Ten, and Izzo said he thinks the matchup will be a tough test for his squad.
“I think any time anybody has a No. 1 team and it goes in somewhere, it’s going to be double Fourth of July and Christmas,” Izzo said. “I think I’m going to learn more about my team again.”
Here’s what to watch for against Ohio State:
Suffocating Spartan defense: MSU boasts one of the most stifling defenses in its conference. The Spartans rank first in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to shooting just 33.1 percent against them.
The Spartans also lead the conference in blocks per game, turning away just more than eight shot attempts per contest. Freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. is swatting away 3.3 attempts per game, best for No. 8 in the country.
Diop vs. Bridges: Ohio State redshirt junior Keita Bates-Diop could often find himself matched up against sophomore forward Miles Bridges. Both frontcourt players stand at 6-7 and lead their respective clubs in scoring.
Diop leads the Big Ten in scoring with 19.3 points per game, but Bridges isn’t too far behind, coming in at No. 5 in the conference with 16.9 points per contest.
Bridges scored 41 points in the Spartans' two meetings with the Buckeyes last season. Diop missed both games because of a leg injury that kept him sidelined for the Ohio State’s final 18 games last year.
Ward efficient play: Sophomore forward Nick Ward is connecting on a conference-best 72.3 percent of his field goal attempts. In each of his last five games, Ward has posted an overall shooting percentage of 75 percent or better.
In last season’s meeting between the two teams on the Buckeyes’ home court, Ward went 3-for-7 for nine points in 18 minutes of action.
Michael Duke: MSU 77, Ohio State 68
Casey Harrison: MSU 84, Ohio State 71