The Buckeyes, having recovered from their loss to the little brothers with a solid win over the Golden Gophers, now have to travel to Ann Arbor to face the plucky Wolverines for the second time this season.
Michigan, currently ranked #17 in the AP Poll, has absolutely earned that ranking the last couple of weeks. While they are only 3-2 through their last five games, their two losses have come at Ohio State (64-49) and at Michigan State (64-54). In turn, they’ve picked up impressive wins against #20 Indiana, and Illinois, and also picked up a nice (but not necessarily quality) win at Nebraska.
Michigan’s sophomores struggled at times during the slump. Tim Hardaway Jr. (6-6, 200) in particular struggled to hit his shot in their games against Michigan State and Nebraska, scoring a combined 10 points in those outings. For reference, recall that he scored 15 against the Buckeyes in a general rout. Hardaway is an important cog in the Wolverine’s offense, so it was critical to their postseason outlook that he managed to emerge against Illinois this week and score 15.
With Hardaway struggling, Michigan looked to their other starters for scoring leadership. Freshman Trey Burke (5-11, 180), former teammate of Jared Sullinger and JD Weatherspoon, has been one of the most consistent pieces for that team up north. He has not failed to score in double digits his last five games, including 13 against the Buckeyes and 11 against the Spartans – two of the best defenses in the Big Ten as we’ve painfully learned.
Zack Novak has also been a consistent answer. Despite scoring no points against the Buckeyes, he has gone on to drop double digits in every game since. That includes a better than 50% shooting percentage from beyond the arc; 9-16 in fact. Michigan will be looking to get him going at home against the Buckeyes, hoping that improved production from him will mean a different end of game storyline this time around.
|#10||T. Hardaway Jr||33.423||14.346||41.1||73.3||26.7||3.462||2.5||1.654||0.423||0.231||2.038|
|#32||L. Smith Jr.||23.731||6.115||46.6||56.1||40.4||4.885||2.038||1.077||1.038||0.115||1.962|
There are two critical things to remember when thinking about that game (and any Big Ten game for that matter). Winning on the road in the Big Ten has been extremely difficult this year. Michigan State stole an amazing one away from us in Value City Arena, and hopefully we can pay them back for that. That said, teams have struggled much more on the road than at home. That’s true in general, but this year seems to be worse than usual.
Secondly, Minnesota is no slouch team. While they struggled with a 16-0 Buckeye run through one point of the game, they rallied back and closed the gap towards the end of the game. I don’t think they were ever really in the game at the end, but they certainly made a fight of it. That says a lot about Tubby Smith as a coach, and it says a lot about what this Minnesota team is going to be able to do if they get another big inside presence in a future recruiting class. Watch out for it.
Jared Sullinger absolutely needs to keep his head in the game and not allow the refs to dictate his play. Teams are going to double and triple team him constantly until the Bucks get some outside shooting going. I’d like to see Sullinger pass out of the double team more frequently and find some open outside looks – even if that means a short entry drive for a long two. Craft, Buford, Sam Thompson, and Shannon Scott have all demonstrated an ability to hit those little pop jumpers from around the free throw line, so OSU should look to start using them to open up the defense inside.
The Buckeyes are going to struggle against the Wolverines on Saturday. It won’t be pretty, they are going to fight us tooth and nail up and down the court all night, and they simply won’t give an inch in front of the home crowd. While I think OSU can pull off the win, the Bucks are going to have to play a great first half of basketball and take the crowd out of it early – something we finally saw them do against Minnesota. If Michigan has to make a comeback attempt late, I give our defense a good chance of stopping them.
The Buckeyes will play the Michigan Wolverines in Crisler Arena on Saturday, February 18th at 9:00 PM EST. You’ll be able to find the game on ESPN.