Who: No. 5 Michigan State (13-1, 2-0) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (15-0, 2-0)
What: Big Ten matchup
When: Tuesday, Jan. 7, at 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Where: Breslin Center (East Lansing, Mich.)
FUN FACT: COACHING HISTORY
Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo currently ranks first in Big Ten history with the most Final Four appearances by a Big Ten coach (6). Ohio State’s Harold Olsen and Fred Taylor rank third and fourth on the list with four appearances each.
MATCHUP TO WATCH FOR: KEITH APPLING VS. AARON CRAFT
Clearly, over the years, there has been a rivalry brewing between the Michigan State Spartans and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Both teams have been in serious championship contention in the Big Ten, and nationally, for a majority of the past decade. However, within the war, there’s been a battle developing between Michigan State senior point guard Keith Appling and Ohio State senior point guard Aaron Craft.
For the past three years, both Craft and Appling have been pivotal parts of their team’s success. Also, aside from the fact that they play the same position, they have contradicting styles of play that causes a great matchup.
Appling has developed into one of the more versatile scoring point guards in the country. While he’s at his best when attacking the rim, the 6-foot-1 guard is shooting 47 percent from 3-point range this year — the highest of his career.
As for Craft — the latest recipient of the Big Ten Player of the Week award — he is arguably the best on-ball defender in the nation. Through the years he has been one of the few point guards that has been able to frustrate Appling. He has a knack for the ball, and his 2.5 steals per game average ranks him first in the Big Ten this year.
The last time these two teams met was in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, and Craft, who was hitting almost everything he threw up, led Ohio State to a 61-58 victory over Michigan State. On his way to a game-high 20 points, a game-high nine assists and a game-high four steals, Craft — who isn’t normally seen as a jump shooting threat — hit multiple jumpers late and got the better of Appling in this matchup. Appling finished with 16 points, but only had two assists and shot 35 percent (6 of 17) from the field.
This is the premier point guard matchup in the conference, and whenever these two go at one another it’s as if they are battling for the “Best Point Guard” title in the Big Ten.
X-FACTOR: THE CROWD
Unfortunately for the MSU basketball team, the fans and college basketball faithful across the country, one of the biggest games in the Big Ten this season falls right in the middle of one of the most epic snow storms in my 21 years of existence. Classes were cancelled on MSU’s campus on Monday, Jan. 6, and according to the State News, all classes before noon are cancelled on the day of the game.
There have been questions raised over the past couple of seasons as to how involved the MSU students are when it comes to showing up for games — in both football and basketball — and while the students have shown up for the most part this season, the attendance for this massive Big Ten meeting could provide a much-needed close to those discussions.
Also, in a game of this magnitude it’s important to get the crowd behind you for all 40 minutes, and with a nationally-televised game you, as a fanbase, want to show the rest of the country that not only do you have one of the best teams but the best supporters as well.
Will the weather affect attendance? That’s going to be something to pay attention to throughout the game.
PREDICTION: MSU 65, OSU 60