The Big Ten is widely regarded as one of the best conferences in men’s college basketball right now, and two of its top teams will square off in Columbus Saturday.
Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta said during a Friday press conference that he considers the Big Ten to be as competitive as it has been since his arrival in Columbus, Ohio, in 2005. Also considering that MSU is a perennial Big Ten power, it may be safe to expect a tight battle on Saturday when the No. 3 Buckeyes host No. 11 Michigan State.
OSU (21-3, 9-2 Big Ten) is riding a six-game winning streak into the game against the Spartans. MSU (19-5, 8-3) is on the Buckeyes’ heels as the No. 2 team in the Big Ten standings.
MSU senior forward Draymond Green, the No. 8-leading scorer in the Big Ten with 15 points per game and the No. 1-leading rebounder with 11 boards per game, has helped the Spartans stay close to OSU in the conference standings.
It will take a team effort to keep Green from hurting the Buckeyes, Matta said Friday.
“Everybody’s got to be involved because… (Green) is a tremendous basketball player,” Matta said. “There’s so many things he can do that can affect the outcome of a game. For us guarding him, it’s going to take five guys out there.”
Matta said that OSU sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas will be assigned to defending Green, but that doesn’t mean he expects the Spartans player’s production to be curtailed.
“It’s funny,” Matta said, “just watching Michigan State play and all the different guys that have tried to guard (Green) and who has had success and who hasn’t had success.”
With or without Green on the court for MSU, which has advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 14 consecutive seasons, a game against coach Tom Izzo’s traditionally strong Spartans program is tough for most teams in country.
“If you look at Michigan State and the job coach Izzo has done… he took over a program that had had success and has really taken it to another level,” Matta said. “(I knew) eight years ago when I got here that (MSU) was one of few programs that was probably going to stand the test of time that we were going to have to compete with.”
In his eight season leading OSU, Matta boasts a 6-5 overall, regular-season record against the Spartans.
In the team’s last meeting, the Buckeyes defeated the Spartans, 71-61, on Feb. 15, 2011. Sophomore forward Aaron Craft said he remembered the win against MSU as one of the most physical games OSU played during its 2010-11 campaign.
Craft said the team will be ready for another physical matchup in Saturday’s game.
“(MSU is) a great team. Every year, they seem to always find a way to win,” Craft said. “This year, we’re just going in with the understanding that … we just need to find a way to continue to stay connected out there.”
The Buckeyes and Spartans will tip their first of two regular season meetings at 6 p.m., Saturday, at the Schottenstein Center.