• What: MSU at Ohio State
• When: 7 p.m. Thursday
• Where: The Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio.
• TV/Radio: ESPN/Spartan Sports Network radio, including WJIM 1240-AM and WMMQ 94.9-FM; Sirius/XM Ch. 196 (MSU broadcast)
• Records/Rankings: MSU is 19-10 overall, 10-8 in the Big Ten and ranked No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches poll, while unranked by the Associated Press. MSU is No. 38 in the NET rankings, which is the tool most used by the NCAA tournament selection committee. Ohio State is 18-9 overall, 11-7 in the Big Ten and ranked No. 23 in both major polls. The Buckeyes are No. 22 in the NET.
• Coaches: MSU — Tom Izzo is 662-264 in his 27th season as a head coach, all with the Spartans. With MSU’s next win, he’ll break Bobby Knight’s record for the most wins by a coach at a Big Ten school. Ohio State — Chris Holtmann is 219-138 in his 11th season as a head coach, including 105-53 in five seasons with the Buckeyes.
• Series: MSU leads 73-58 all-time. This is the first and only scheduled meeting this season.
• Projected betting line: Ohio State -5.5 (via oddsmaker Trevor Darnell)
C (34) Julius Marble II (6-9) 6.5
PF (25) Malik Hall (6-8) 9.6
SF (44) Gabe Brown (6-8) 11.4
SG (5) Max Christie (6-6) 9.5
PG (2) Tyson Walker (6-0) 8.2
F (32) E.J. Liddell (6-7) 19.6
F (25) Kyle Young (6-6) 8.2
G (3) Eugene Brown (6-6) 3.5
G (22) Malaki Branham (6-5) 12.7
G (55) Jamari Wheeler (6-1) 7.0
• MSU update: The Spartans are coming off their latest humbling loss, Tuesday night at Michigan, which ruined all the good feelings from MSU’s win over Purdue three days earlier. This is where the crunch of games, due to the Michigan makeup game Tuesday, gets difficult. The Spartans are facing the Buckeyes for the first time this season and doing so with just one day to prepare. They drove straight to Columbus from Ann Arbor on Tuesday night to give themselves as much time as possible. The biggest question facing MSU from a personnel standpoint is the health of point guard AJ Hoggard, who tried to play through an illness Tuesday and was ineffective in 11 minutes on the court. MSU’s best performances over the last 12 games almost entirely correlate with when Hoggard has played well. MSU’s only win since mid-January when he hasn’t was a narrow escape at Maryland.
• Ohio State update: The Buckeyes are coming off back-to-back losses at Maryland and, Tuesday night, at home to Nebraska, a puzzling slide giving their form in the previous five games, which included four wins — over Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Illinois. Ohio State isn’t 100% health-wise, either. Kyle Young was under the weather Tuesday night, big man Zed Key missed the game with an ankle injury and the Buckeyes looked flat. But they still have a Big Ten player of the year candidate in E.J. Liddell and just a week ago won a road game at Illinois.
• Inside the matchup: Liddell is one of my favorite players to watch in college basketball and has an argument for Big Ten player of the year, though I don’t think he’ll win it. He’s a force in the paint and also shoots 37% from beyond the arc. He’s a difficult cover for any team, because while he doesn’t have the brute size of some of the bigs that MSU has faced, the Spartans’ big men aren’t really equipped to defend him. Malik Hall is MSU’s best option. If Key is good to go for Ohio State, he provides another guy who can score on the block. But it’s freshman wing Malaki Branham who has changed the Buckeyes’ season. Branham, who had 22, 27 and 31 points, respectively, against Iowa, Indiana and Illinois in consecutive games recently, is a guard who can get in the lane, create his own shot and cause trouble. Beyond Liddell and Branham, however, this isn’t a roster that always clicks. If MSU shows up defensively — and if Hoggard can give the Spartans some healthy minutes — they can keep pace.
• Prediction: Until Ohio State’s last two games, I thought the Buckeyes might earn a share of the Big Ten title and make a run deep into March. Now I don’t know what to think. But they’re home Thursday and, overall, they’ve been better than MSU of late.
Make it: Ohio State 71, MSU 65
Contact Graham Couch at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.