Who: No. 8 Ohio State (19-13, 8-12 Big Ten) vs. No. 1 Michigan State (25-6, 16-4 Big Ten)
When: 12:30 p.m., Friday, March 15
Where: United Center, Chicago, Illinois
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 94.9 WMMQ-FM (Lansing)
Key players: Forward Kaleb Wesson (6-foot-9, 270, Sophomore, Westerville, Ohio), Guard C.J. Jackson (6-foot-1, 175, Senior, Charlotte, N.C.)
After defeating No. 10 Michigan 75-63 March 9 for a share of the Big Ten regular season championship, the No. 6 Michigan State Spartans open up their Big Ten championship run Friday afternoon against Ohio State. The Spartans defeated the Buckeyes twice already this season, 86-77 Jan. 5 in Columbus, and 62-44 Feb. 17 in East Lansing.
Junior forward Nick Ward is expected back on the court for MSU for the first time since he suffered a hairline fracture in his left hand in the Feb. 17 game. Ward said the month off the court has been hard to deal with mentally.
“It wears a lot on you, so I just want to get back on the floor and help my team,” Ward said after practice Tuesday.
The Buckeyes are coming off a win over Indiana Thursday afternoon, 79-75, in the first game back for their own star big man. Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds Thursday after serving a three-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules. The Buckeyes lost all three games, being outscored by an average of 19.6 points.
Wesson is the Buckeyes’ leading scorer at 14.7 points per game, dropping 25 against Ward and MSU Jan. 5. Senior guard C.J. Jackson is the second-leading scorer, at 12.3 points per game, and leads the team in minutes per game (30.6), assists per game (3.4), and three-point shooting percentage (38.9 percent).
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently lists the Buckeyes as one of his last four teams in the NCAA Tournament.
For Michigan State, the tournament is an opportunity to consolidate and potentially improve their seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Lunardi currently regards the Spartans as a No. 2 seed.
Junior point guard Cassius Winston was named Big Ten Player of the Year and a Sporting News first-team All-American on Monday. He leads the Spartans in minutes per game (33.2), points per game (19.0), and assists per game (7.6). Winston has scored 38 points and dished 13 assists in the two match-ups with Ohio State this season.