Tuesday, February 7, 2012

B1G debate: MSU or OSU?

Saturday show down in Columbus (AP Photo)
A big-time show down is looming between the Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State Buckeyes this Saturday in Columbus. First place will be mostly like be on the line with a clearer path to the B1G Conference Championship laid out. OSU plays today at home against Purdue and MSU has a game tomorrow at home against Penn St. Both teams must take care of business for the match up on Saturday to truly have first place implications. I know this, Tom Izzo and Thad Matta will not allow their teams to look ahead. However in the mean time, let's take a look at what makes up these two B1G powers.

Many people including myself dubbed this year's Ohio State Buckeye basketball team as the cream of the B1G crop. With the return of key players like Jered Sullinger, William Buford, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Kraft the Buckeyes looked bigger and stronger then everyone else. So far they have complied a record of 20-3 (8-2). They have certainly passed the eye ball test by beating Florida and crushing Duke at home earlier this year. The three loses have all come on the road and have been relatively close, even the Kansas loss was winnable late despite not having Sullinger in the line up.

And then came a 15 game win streak and competition for the B1G thrown was born. Michigan State came up from the ashes of a 0-2 start generating a win streak that put them back in the polls and on the national radar. The Spartans have cooled off a bit since then but still hold a strong 18-5 (7-3) record.

So who's the best team in the B1G?

Many Journalists and bloggers are quick to say that clearly OSU is the best team. If at one point they rated MSU above OSU during the Spartans winning streak they quickly dismissed the notation by saying Ohio State will be better when it's all said and done. 

Michigan State and Ohio State are much closer then most would think.

Statistically both teams match up fairly close. The Buckeyes shoot 49% from the field scoring roughly 76 points and grabbing 37 rebounds per game. On the other hand the Spartans shoot 48%, score around 74 and rebound at a rate of about 40 per game. Watching both teams play you notice the great ball movement from inside-out. Nationally both teams rank in the top 20 in assists per game, with MSU 18th (16.2) and OSU 19th (16.0). Overall, Spartans shoot the ball better from 3 point and from the free throw line. In the B1G both are 1 and 2 in scoring margin:

                                        G  Offense  Defense  Margin
1.Ohio State              23   76.5      55.4      +21.0
2.Michigan State     23   73.7      59.1      +14.6

Looking deeper at each team's season resumes so far it's hard to build a strong argument going either way for the best. The current RPI rankings have MSU ranked #3 and OSU #4:

Rk.                           WLRPISOS RankSOS
3Michigan State1850.654120.6062
4Ohio State2030.6525280.5720

The Buckeyes may have more wins, but the quality of wins remains with the Spartans who hold the 2nd toughest scheduled in America thus far. OSU has a strength of schedule ranking of 28th. Give both programs credit for playing worthy non-conference opponents (UNC, Duke, Florida, Florida State) and traveling to some hostile environments (Gonzaga & Kansas) that most teams would dare not enter. To this point the Spartans are holding true to their coaches motto of "anyone, anytime, anywhere" when it comes to non-conference opponents. 

The team edge may lie with how the Buckeyes are constructed offensively with consistent scoring threats at the forward and guard positions. The Buckeyes rely on more then half of their points coming from Sullinger, Buford and Thomas (47 points total). The Spartans need to combine the top 5 scoring averages just to pass the Buckeyes top 3. When the Buckeyes have gotten Craft going along with Lenzelle Smith they are as dangerous as any offense in the nation. But beyond the top 5 Buckeye scorers there is a significant drop off in talent and that is where the Spartans will have an advantage.

The Spartans are much deeper team then the Buckeyes and will in some cases play as many as 10 players in a game. There is enough depth and talent on the Spartan roster to make up for individual offensive struggles, a luxury the Buckeyes do not have. The Spartans are truly a team offense, in the sense that they rely on getting open shots and easy looks in the paint for each other instead of individually. Draymond Green may be the team's leader, but the entire team is counted upon for offensive production. What the Spartans lack in star power is made up together as a team. With Green and Keith Appling being the only players to average double figures, the Spartans have five players (Brandon Wood, Branden Dawson, Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne, and Travis Trice) beyond those two who are all capable of scoring in double figures any given game.

The Buckeyes may have the better talent from players 1 - 3, but the Spartans counter with more talented depth. The key to these teams playing will be which one can handle adversity better. Can the Buckeyes handle the physical presence of the Spartan forwards? Can the Spartans handle a hostile environment without turning the ball over? The home team should be favored in this one, but expect an old school Big Ten throw down as both teams will be looking to turn heads on Saturday with a victory.

So who's the best?

We'll find out on Saturday!

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