Michigan will be in town tomorrow for a little basketball game at Value City Arena. They will not be welcomed by the home town crowd.
This matchup should be interesting, as Michigan enters the game as a relevant Big Ten title contender for the first time in a long time. In fact, the Wolverines enter the game in a tie for first place with the Buckeyes in the conference standings. One of Michigan’s strengths is their ability to produce points from beyond the arc, and there have been stretches where Ohio State defenders have been late to the outside shot and have been burned. Michigan’s chances, really, depend on how well they shoot from outside because it would be a surprise if they won the battle inside.
The Buckeyes are turning into the team that I thought they were capable of. Since the loss to Illinois, they are 3-0, winning by margins of 17, 34, and 24. But, even if you include the loss to Illinois, they have really begun to play better fundamental basketball. Even though senior William Buford just recently began to snap out of his funk, the team has been playing solidly. The outside shots are falling, Jared Sullinger is dominating the paint, they are crashing the boards, their team defense is fantastic (they’ve held 11 opponents to 50 or fewer points), and the bench is developing into a solid asset. Three Buckeye starters average double figures in scoring. Ohio State appears to have turned the corner from their midseason struggles and is poised to head to the NCAA tournament as one of the higher seeded teams.
Offense – Advantage Ohio State
The Buckeyes are just too talented and too deep, especially with the way they are playing right now, for them to be held down. If Sully isn’t scoring then DeShaun Thomas and Buford pick up the slack. If they aren’t scoring, Sullinger is good for 20. If none of them are lighting up the scoreboard then Lenzelle Smith, Jr. will for 28! I’m not kidding when I say that this might be the most talented team that Thad Matta has had since coming to Columbus. Michigan doesn’t start a true center either, meaning Sullinger will be double teamed most likely. Expect a big game from Buford. If Michigan finds a way to win this game, it won’t be because of the Buckeye offense being shut down.
Defense – Advantage Ohio State
The Buckeyes have had issues occasionally defending the three. Michigan has some guys who can light it up out there, most notably sophomore guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. and freshman guard Trey Burke (who also was a high school teammate of Sullinger). Typically, though, if you live by the three, you die by the three and neither one of those shooters are quite Jon Diebler from the perimeter. If Ohio State limits the Wolverines in transition and forces them to live from the outside, they should win the game.
Coaching – Advantage Ohio State
Both coaches are quality guys. But, Thad Matta’s guys haven’t really lost any games that could be considered bad losses or head scratchers. Michigan has a solid resume, but also got blown out on the road by Iowa and lost to an SEC team not named Kentucky (Arkansas). Ohio State beat Iowa on the road by 29. Michigan coach John Beilein is just 2-8 against Ohio State and 0-4 in Columbus.
X Factors – Advantage Ohio State
Ohio State should win every X factor, except maybe from the free throw line. The Buckeyes continue to struggle from the stripe. But Ohio State should dominate the rebounding as the Wolverine’s leading rebounder, Evan Smotrycz, only averages 5.7 boards per game. Ohio State rarely loses at home, 37 straight victories in fact, that started with a 66-55 victory over Michigan on February 27, 2010. The Buckeye Nut House should be electric in the lower bowl of the arena. After all, MICHIGAN will be in town. A win for the Buckeyes would be a small consolation for the loss the football team took in Ann Arbor in November.
Prediction – Ohio State by 10+
Michigan will be one of the better opponents that Ohio State has played this year. I don’t think that will be enough to carry Michigan to a victory though. Ohio State is on a roll right now and is playing as well, fundamentally, as they have all year. Considering it is a rivalry game and first place is on the line, the Buckeyes will be ready to take care of business with a sellout crowd of scarlet and gray fans in full force behind them. Expect Michigan to play scrappy and stay within striking distance until the end. Ohio State’s depth should be enough for them to pull away at the end.
CBS will have the game at 1 p.m.