Saturday , Feb , 03 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Buckeyes hit road with hopes of keeping pace atop Big Ten

East Lansing, MI (Sports Network) – Big Ten rivals square off in East Lansing
this afternoon, as the fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes come calling on the
Michigan State Spartans.

Ohio State currently sits in a first-place tie in the conference with No. 2
Wisconsin, each logging a 7-1 league ledger to this point. The Buckeyes are
riding the crest of a six-game win streak, which includes a 66-64 win versus
these same Spartans in Columbus last Saturday. As a result of that victory, OSU
now trails in the all-time series by a 59-50. A win here will give OSU coach
Thad Matta his seventh 20-win season in seven years as a head coach (three at
Ohio State, four at Xavier), a remarkable feat indeed.

MSU is hoping to put the brakes on a two-game slide as the team has
dropped games at both Ohio State and Illinois in the last week. The 57-50
setback to the Illini marked the Spartans’ second lowest scoring output of
the season and evened their conference mark at 4-4. Despite their
lackluster league showing, Tom Izzo’s club is 17-6 on the year and has won all
14 of its home games to date.

Ohio State had little trouble getting past Purdue in its most recent outing,
getting 18 points from Mike Conley Jr., 16 from Jamar Butler and 12 from
Daequan Cook. OSU freshman sensation Greg Oden finished with just nine points
and six rebounds in 21 minutes of action — a far cry from the 15.2 points and
9.5 caroms per contest the 7-0 Indianapolis native is averaging on the year.
Cook is next in line at 12.9 ppg, and he is a 47.1 percent shooter from three-
point range. As electric as Oden has been in his 15 games played this year,
coach Matta is getting solid efforts from a few different guys, including Ron
Lewis (11.6 ppg), Conley Jr. (9.7 ppg, 6.5 apg), Ivan Harris (9.5 ppg) and
Jamar Butler (8.5 ppg). The Buckeyes are hitting 48.9 percent of their total
shots, 38.2 percent of their three-point tries and 70.2 percent of their free
throws, while foes are shooting less than 40 percent from the field and just a
shade over 30 percent from long range. As a result, OSU is netting 77.1 ppg
while yielding just 61.4 ppg.

Michigan State has its own star player in 6-0 junior Drew Neitzel, a 39.4
percent three-point shooter who is averaging 18.3 points and 4.5 assists per
game. Raymar Morgan is the team’s only other double-digit scorer at the moment,
checking in at 11.0 ppg behind 50.0 percent shooting from the floor. Goran
Sutton and Marquise Gray pace the Spartans on the glass with 6.5 rpg apiece,
the team laying claim to a +9.5 rpg on the season. Travis Walton nearly doubled
his season average (7.0 ppg) by scoring a team-high 13 points in MSU’s seven-
point loss at Illinois earlier in the week, as the Spartans shot a dismal 37.0
percent from the floor, which included a 2-of-12 showing from three-point
range. The Illini didn’t fare much better, hitting just 39.6 percent from the
field and only 3-of-15 from beyond the arc. It also didn’t help matters that
Michigan State committed 20 turnovers and saw its reserves outscored by
Illinois’, 21-7.

On paper, Ohio State is the better of these two teams but Michigan State has
been perfect at home so expect the Spartans to come out with guns blazing. In
the end, however, Oden, Conley Jr. and the rest of the Buckeyes will do enough
to earn the victory, but it should be nip and tuck throughout.