Key to OSU-MSU: Transition game

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
11:04
AM ET
For the first time in series history, Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans will meet as top-5 opponents (9 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN).

The AP Poll isn't the only ranking with both teams in the top five.

When the Buckeyes and Spartans meet tonight, the key matchup could be in transition.

Michigan State's transition offense ranks third in the country with 24.3 points per game. Ohio State's transition defense allows just 7.4 points per game, fourth-fewest of any team.

Michigan State transition offense
The Spartans transition offense is led by Gary Harris (6.2 PPG) and Keith Appling (5.3 PPG), who lead the Big Ten in transition scoring.

Michigan State looks to push the ball quickly and often, whether it's off a missed shot, a made shot, or a turnover. The Spartans average 21.5 transition plays per game, the third-most in the country.

Much of their success in transition has to do with their ability to finish well around the basket. The Spartans are shooting 63 percent at the rim this season, eight-best among all teams.

Here's an example of a successful Michigan State transition play and how it transpired:

1. Against Kentucky, Branden Dawson grabbed a defensive rebound in the middle of the paint. Once Dawson secured the rebound, it's evident that all five Kentucky players were turned towards the ball with their eyes on Dawson, while Denzel Valentine was already leaking out in the open court.

2. Without dribbling, Dawson threw the ball ahead to Valentine for an outlet pass over the mid-court line. At the same time, three Michigan State players were spaced out while sprinting down the court with two Kentucky defenders behind them.

3. When Valentine caught the outlet pass, Aaron Harrison was the only Kentucky player back on defense.

4. Dawson -- who originally grabbed the rebound and threw the outlet pass -- beat four Kentucky players down the court, creating a 2-on-1 fast break for the Spartans. Valentine took just one dribble and threw an alley-oop to Dawson for an easy dunk. The entire play lasted less than four seconds.

Ohio State transition defense
Something will have to give in East Lansing tonight, because the Buckeyes transition defense has been just as dominant as the Spartans transition offense this season.

The Buckeyes limit their opponents to just 8.9 transition plays per game, the 14th-fewest of any team. Not only do they limit transition opportunities but they are efficient defending in transition as well. They hold their opponents to the 11th-fewest points per transition play. Teams are shooting just 43 percent against them on those plays.

Let's take a look at an example of an Ohio State defensive transition play that ended with a turnover:

1. After a defensive rebound by Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton, he passed the ball ahead to Demetrius Jackson near mid-court.

2. By the time Jackson caught the outlet pass, four Ohio State defenders were already ahead of the ball. As Jackson dribbled down the right side of the court, the four Ohio State defenders closest to Jackson all appeared to have their eyes on Jackson.

3. As Jackson attacked the basket, all five Ohio State defenders had at least one foot in the paint.

4. Aaron Craft forced Jackson to leave his feet under the basket, and Shannon Scott intercepted the pass.

The tempo of the game could play a large part in the outcome as Ohio State tries to limit Michigan State's easy points.

The Buckeyes transition defense is a large part why they rank second in the country in defensive efficiency and haven't allowed 70 points in any game this season.

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