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Daniel Wilco | | January 3, 2019

Michigan State vs Ohio State prediction: 3 stats tell us who will win this ranked Big Ten matchup

Michigan is No. 1 as Seton Hall and Nebraska rise in Andy Katz's Power 36

Michigan State and Ohio State have played 122 times since 1950, with the Spartans winning 71 of those matchups. The two teams face off again Saturday, with both ranked in the Top 15 of the AP poll.

You can watch the game at 12 p.m. on FOX.

RELATED: 24 players with a shot to be the college basketball player of the year

Before the game, we break down three key stats that will play a major role in the matchup, and predict the final outcome.

Ohio State will need to take advantage of its opportunities

Michigan State is the one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, collecting 57.7 percent of all available rebounds (ranking fourth in the nation). And the Spartans’ specialty is on the defensive glass. Michigan State averages 32.4 defensive rebounds per game, second only to Oklahoma’s 32.5. For reference, there are 31 Division I teams that average fewer than 32.4 total rebounds per game. 

So it doesn’t help Ohio State that the Buckeyes are a below-average offensive rebounding team, only pulling in 9.5 per game. What’s more, Ohio State’s lone loss — to Syracuse in November — came when the Buckeyes recorded a season-low rebounding total of 25, with only four offensive boards.

MORE: 33 fearless predictions for the remainder of the college basketball season

Michigan State also has a much higher effective field goal percentage (a statistic that accounts for both accuracy and the point value of different shots) than Ohio State, and the ninth-best opponent effective field goal percentage, meaning they know how to take and make high value shots and keep their opponents from doing the same.  

Michigan State’s selflessness will be a problem for Ohio State

Michigan State is the best team in the country at sharing the ball. The Spartans have the most assists in the nation with 306, an average of 21.9 per game. What’s more, they have the highest assist percentage in the country, recording an assist on 69.4 percent of all of their made field goals — miles ahead of the national average of 52.6 percent. 

That selflessness shows on the box score, as the Spartans have three different players averaging at least 15 points per game in Cassius Winston (17.1), Nick Ward (16.4), and Joshua Langford (15). For as good as Ohio State is on defense (Buckeyes have the 30th-best defensive rating), it’s pretty hard to lock down a team with so many options. Still, it opens up an opportunity for Ohio State: forcing the Spartans to play one-on-one. Michigan State has two losses on the year (against Kansas and Louisville), and both games came after the Spartans recorded a below-average number of assists.

MORE: Andy Katz's Power 36 rankings | AP poll

Ohio State's chances depend on good shooting

It’s no surprise that each team can score with ease, as both sit in the Top 40 in offensive ratings — Michigan State tied for No. 6 with 119.3 points per 100 possessions and Ohio State tied for No. 40 at 113.3.

But where they differ is how reliant they both are on shooting. Ohio State’s margin of victory is strongly impacted by its effective field goal percentage. The Buckeyes worst shooting performance of the season came in their lone loss, while their best shooting performance resulted in their largest margin of victory (46 points). This seems fairly obvious, but it’s where Michigan State differs. 

Effective field goal percentage has about 30 percent less of an impact on Michigan State's final margin than Ohio State’s. Because of a greater ability to gather offensive rebounds, force turnovers, and limit opponents’ shots, Michigan State has more of a buffer when it comes to a bad shooting night. The Spartans are 2-0 in games where their effective field goal percentage was at least 7 percent worse than average. The Buckeyes are 0-1 in such games. In short, Ohio State’s success is tied to its accuracy. Michigan State, not so much.


Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country, but its margin of error against a tested and versatile Michigan State team is going to be very small. If things go right for the Buckeyes, a win is quite possible, but this is the Spartans’ game to lose. SCORE PREDICTION: Michigan State 83, Ohio State 74.

How we're doing with these predictions

We're 3-3 so far, but the season is still young.

Virginia vs. Florida State (Jan. 5)

  • Our pick: Virginia
  • Result: TBD

Kentucky vs. North Carolina (Dec. 22)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Loss

Gonzaga vs. North Carolina (Dec. 15)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Win

Kansas vs. Villanova (Dec. 15)

  • Our pick: Kansas
  • Result: Win

Gonzaga vs. Tennessee (Dec. 9)

  • Our pick: Gonzaga
  • Result: Loss

North Carolina vs. Michigan (Nov. 28)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Loss

Duke vs. Auburn (Nov. 20)

  • Our pick: Duke
  • Result: Win

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