For the first time ever the top four seeds of the Big Ten tournament have advanced to the semi-finals. The three co-champions are still in, and still have an opportunity to prove that they are indeed the best team in the Big Ten.
Ohio State and Michigan get to prove it on the court today.
Today is the rubber game in this season’s series. Both teams split the regular season meetings, with the Buckeyes taking a 64-49 win at home, while Michigan emerged victorious in Ann Arbor 56-51.
But this game has even more historical significance. The Buckeyes and Wolverines have encountered each other repeatedly over the last several years in the Big Ten Tournament. Last season, the Bucks handled Michigan in the semi-finals 68-61 by opening up a significant lead halfway through the second half and coasting to the win. The year before saw Evan Turner’s last second buzzer beater sink Michigan’s hopes of upsetting the #1 seed in the quarterfinals, ending a fairly close game 69-68.
Michigan’s recent Big Ten tournament success is a microcosm of the success that John Beilein is having as the head coach of the Wolverines. Where just a few years ago Michigan was being forced to win on Thursday as the 8 or 9 seed, now Michigan is sitting at the top of the conference and earning the first round bye. The Wolverines have turned into a dangerous matchup in recent years, and will certainly give the Buckeyes a run for their money tonight.
The Buckeyes come in having faced the challenge of a Purdue team playing in front of a favorable crowd. Like many teams in the tournament, Purdue was well motivated to find success for their seniors – particularly Robbie Hummel. Purdue put up a good fight for much of the game, keep the game in striking distance, and even grabbing the lead once or twice. The Buckeyes, however, would swiftly regain control, keeping the Boilermakers at arm distance just long enough for OSU to decide enough was enough. Ohio State, holding a scant 4 point lead, went on a nearly unbelievable 14-0 run in three minutes of play. The run left Purdue down nearly twenty points at the under-4 minute timeout, far too late to stage a comeback.
I say unbelievable for such a late run because it demonstrated a trait to this team that we had not yet observed. One of their biggest issues was an inability to close out a game in dominant fashion. They had yet to proven that they could say “enough is enough” and put a team out of their misery. The Buckeyes finally proved they could do it against Purdue, a tough team capable of making it rain from long distance – exactly the kind of team that could have come back from such a deficit. This was yet another step forward for this young Buckeye’s team playing great basketball at exactly the right time.
|#32||L. Smith Jr.||24.25||6.125||47.6||56.7||35.1||4.469||2.125||0.938||0.094||2.0|
|#10||T. Hardaway Jr||34.188||14.625||42.3||71.7||28.7||3.875||2.188||0.469||0.344||2.031|
This game comes down to which team’s scorers are going to find the most success on the offensive end. Michigan’s Trey Burke, one of three state of Ohio products to score 30 points yesterday, and Tim Hardaway Jr. score 68.5% of all of Michigan’s points yesterday – the only Michigan player’s to score in double digits. Tubby Smith’s strategy was clearly to let Burke do the scoring, and take away everyone else – a strategy that very nearly worked. For the Buckeyes, for the first time this season, the starting five all scored in double digits. Jared Sullinger matched his former teammate’s 30, while Deshaun Thomas picked up 22 of his own.
If the Buckeyes can continue to play lights out defense, if they continue to dominate on the boards, and if they continue to be patient on offense and find the good looks, good things will keep happening. This team has very obviously learned what it takes to win games and has been playing smart basketball for the last two weeks. If they can keep that up, and not let Michigan force the pace or put them into a panic, I don’t see this Michigan team having enough to secure a second victory over the Buckeyes this year.
Ohio State and Michigan will play this afternoon in the Big Ten Semifinals, 25 minutes after the Michigan State/Wisconsin matchup at 1:40 PM EST. The game will be on CBS, very likely starting not much after 4:00 PM Eastern Time.