Michigan State middle Nick Ward might be obtainable this afternoon for first time in 5 video games. His Spartans tackle the Ohio State Buckeyes within the Huge Ten Event quarterfinals (12:30 p.m. EST, BTN).
The 6-foot-8, 245-pounder suffered a hairline fracture his left hand through the Ohio State recreation on Feb. 17. The plan is to deliver him alongside slowly to tune up for NCAA Event play subsequent week.
“It’s undoubtedly excellent timing,” Ward mentioned to reporters on Wednesday. “I needed to play Saturday, however it wasn’t in my finest curiosity to play for varied causes with my hand, however now it’s 100 p.c and I really feel good.”
That recreation on Saturday was the house finale, and de facto Huge Ten regular-season championship recreation, towards rival Michigan. The short-handed Spartans beat the top-10 Wolverines 75-63.
As Kyle Austin at MLive famous, Ward insisted on suiting up at halftime together with his workforce down six. It wasn’t needed, and a few are involved his reinsertion into the lineup will tamper with the current mojo. Assistant coach Dane Fife known as it a “delicate” state of affairs.
“Our defensive scheme has been lots totally different,” Fife mentioned to reporters. “You actually can’t get sufficient reps in follow. We’ve received to get Nick caught up in dwell motion.”
Using reserve middle Xavier Tillman, the Spartans have been capable of swap on Michigan’s ball-screens, holding the Wolverines to simply 31 p.c taking pictures within the second half. Along with his Three blocks, Tillman additionally tallied 17 factors to exchange Ward’s scoring manufacturing with out breaking apart the move of the offense.
“I believe Nick generally will get caught up with how he’s going to get open on the subsequent move versus the understanding that he’s received to display,” Fife mentioned. “I believe a part of it was Nick felt numerous strain to attain for us to win. And a part of that was on us.”
Now, Michigan State faces Ohio State and a fellow returning large man in Kaleb Wesson. The Buckeye notched a double-double Thursday towards Indiana in his first recreation since coming back from a 3-game suspension.
Let’s check out how the Spartans can advance to the semifinals.
Spartans’ Outlook vs. Ohio State
Michigan State has been capable of flex it’s pick-and-roll recreation a lot better with Tillman within the lineup.
“With out Nick, everyone became screeners,” Tillman mentioned this week. “We simply screened and screened and we opened the ground like that. And with Nick within the submit, persons are allowed to sink in and dig (double-team) lots.”
None of this model of offense is feasible with out star guard Cassius Winston. The junior level guard is extremely undervalued as a professional prospect, as evidenced by 2 straight 20-point plus showings versus the Wolverines. The performances got here towards the nation’s No. Three effectivity protection.
The opposite benefactor of the brand new method has been ahead Kenny Goins steps as much as the plate.
The 6-foot-7 senior racked up 16 factors with Three triples within the first recreation in Ann Arbor. He connects on 38.9 p.c of his 3-pointers on the season. He added Three extra towards Michigan in East Lansing.
With out Ward (or guard Josh Langford for that matter), the Spartan offense has scored 1.17 factors per possession. Extrapolated out for the total season, that may rank close to the top-10 nationally.
The addition of the junior is actually related although towards the Buckeyes, because the 6-foot-9, 270-pound Wesson would require further our bodies and a focus. Tillman is equally sized to Ward, however should expend numerous power to decelerate the large man. Splitting minutes will maintain the 2 contemporary.
Wesson mixed to attain 37 factors within the final two conferences, together with a 25-point outing in Columbus again in January.
Exterior of that, the Spartans ought to be capable to outscore the Buckeyes, who’ve shot below 30 p.c from deep in each conferences. Improved offense and a solution for Wesson ought to be sufficient to maneuver on to the semifinals.
If meaning a matchup with Wisconsin and middle Ethan Happ, head coach Tom Izzo might be grateful he received a recreation to work in Ward earlier than one other battle.