East Lansing — As Michigan State continues to try and build its resume for the NCAA Tournament, Saturday's matchup with No. 23 Ohio State presents an opportunity to pick up a quality win.
However, it also presents a challenge in finding a way to slow one of the best freshmen in the country — Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell.
"We're gonna play a box-and-one — box on him and one on the other four," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo joked.
That might not exactly be Michigan State's plan against a player that is second in the Big Ten at 19.4 points a game and had a triple-double two games ago against Rutgers — 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
But the Spartans absolutely understand the difficulty in guarding the 6-foot-5 guard who hasn't reached double-figures just one time in 25 games.
"I think he's one of the best players I've seen in this league, one of the best guards I've seen in this league in a long time," Izzo said. "He can beat you with a shot, he is one of the best passers I've seen here, and he's big. He's 6-5, 6-4, so he can see over things. We're gonna throw a couple different wrinkles at him, but he is gonna get some points and we gotta make sure the other guys don't get a lot of theirs."
Russell will get some help as sophomore Marc Loving is expected to be back in the lineup after being suspended for the past three games. He is the Buckeyes' second-leading scorer at 11.7 points a game and is a 53.2-percent 3-point shooter.
But the focus will still be on Russell, and Izzo wasn't giving away any clues as to how he truly will approach it, only saying it won't be up to one person, though Denzel Valentine likely will get plenty of work guarding Ohio State's star.
"I'm not giving it away but there's gonna be more than one or two," Izzo said. "We got three different guys we plan on playing on him and seeing if we can rotate some different (things), whether it's size or strength or different things. The big thing is we're gonna have to get the help.
"We did an unbelievable job defensively (against Northwestern) on a team that's been pretty efficient, for three quarters of that game. Got away a little bit at the end. What we did I thought was phenomenal and our bigs had something to do with it early. The ball screens in this game will be critical because (Russell) is good enough to stop and pop, good enough to get in the lane, good enough to look over you and see. Very, very, very good player."
Even though Michigan State continues to be among the leaders defensively in the Big Ten, big physical guards have given the Spartans trouble at times.
But they feel having guard Eron Harris — he is sitting out after transferring from West Virginia — will be a perfect way to prepare.
"A lot. A lot," Izzo said of how much Harris will help. "And he's a little different than him, he's probably got more quickness. But D'Angelo has, he's just a little smoother as far as things. But yeah, like Friday we're gonna really unleash him a little bit and let him do a lot of things. He's gonna be a great D'Angelo Russell."