By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – Less than a month after Michigan came within a basket of upsetting No. 1 Arizona, the fifth-ranked Michigan State Spartans will host a marquee matchup of their own, taking on No. 3 Ohio State on Thursday at the Breslin Center.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Ohio State coach Thad Matta have built their respective programs into perennial contenders, giving what is already a Big Ten rivalry game an extra boost.
“There’s been some great games,” Izzo said on a Monday teleconference. “Most of them have gone right down to the wire. There’ve been some really good games that have been very well played, so I think it’s been a good, clean, hard-fought rivalry.
“When you’ve been able to do what we’ve done, and that’s kind of maintain some semblance of consistency, certain teams become your rivals in certain ways,” Izzo continued. “You kind of gain more rivalries if you keep success because rivalries are built on two good teams that are playing for something, and us and Ohio State have played for a lot of Big Ten championships over the last six, seven years, or at least been right in the hunt.”
Ohio State (15-0, 2-0) and Michigan State (13-1, 2-0) are two of three Big Ten teams ranked among the nation’s five best. In terms of ranked opponents, the Buckeyes and Spartans have not been tested too much to this point.
Ohio State defeated then-No. 17 Marquette, which is no longer ranked, back on Nov. 16, in its third game of the season. Michigan State knocked off a young, talented Kentucky team – then ranked No. 1, now ranked No. 14 – in its second game of the season.
For both, those wins proved to be good signs. Thursday’s game, near the start of the conference season, will be another benchmark.
“It better not become [just] another game or otherwise that’s disappointing,” Izzo said. “And yet again you don’t want it to be where it’s the biggest game of the year because you do have to learn in this program you’ll have a lot of big games, but there’s always going to be a little more.”
Izzo characterized the Buckeyes as a team that plays well on defense with an offense that is improving as the season continues. The defense, Izzo said, carries Ohio State, and the Buckeyes work hard to turn that defense into offense.
“They do is they become very athletic, they get you in a lot of ball screens, they get you on the break, but they turn their defense into offense, and when you’ve got three defenders on the perimeter, and you defend well, then you’re going the other way and good things are happening,” Izzo said, “so I think that’s the biggest thing is their defense becomes aggressive and they turn that into fast-break basketball, even though they don’t break all the time, the opportunistic break off steals and things like that, that makes it very effective.”
Ohio State coach Thad Matta understands most people look at Michigan State and see its offense, but Matta believes the defense can be a threat as well.
“They don’t get a lot of credit for their defense because they’re so explosive offensively, but in a game like tomorrow, they’re going to get some things because they’re a great team,” Matta said. “You’ve got to try to make it as difficult as you can in terms of making them earn the points that they get, and conversely you’re hoping you can get some easy ones yourself and put together a couple runs.
“You’ve got a typical great Michigan State team,” Matta continued. “They’re very, very experienced, and so from handling their defensive intensity to their transition offensive to rebounding the basketball, you have to play great basketball across the board to beat them.”