Date: Saturday, March 12
Time: 1:40 PM EST
I'm gonna be straight with you. There's not a whole lot on the line when Michigan takes on Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals today. The Wolverines almost definitely locked up an NCAA bid with the win over Illinois in the quarterfinals, and Ohio State will be a #1 seed no matter what happens. Yeah, Michigan can for sure improve their seed with a win, and yeah, these teams are football rivals, but these guys are mostly playing for pride today. Actually, that's not really a bad thing.
Ohio State and Michigan hooked up twice this season. The most recent result was a 62-53 Buckeye home win in which Jared Sullinger dominated with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Despite this, Michigan coach John Beilein seemed uncomfortable when offering praise, as he called Sullinger "a very unusual freshman." Not so unusual was how Ohio State dominated the free throw battle in that game. They attempted 25 freebies to Michigan's 4. That's not necessarily an aberration though. When you have a guy like Sullinger who draws fouls and you don't foul much on defense (see stats below), winning the free throw battle becomes a legitimate strategy.
Tim Hardaway Jr. actually had a great game in that loss to the Bucks, as he shot over 50% while leading Michigan with 15 points. However, it was the previous match-up in Ann Arbor that offered a better example of how the Wolverines can pull the upset today. In that game, back on January 12, Michigan took advantage of Ohio State's mediocre 3-point defense and lit them up on 11/24 shooting from beyond the arc. Point guard Darius Morris did a great job of distributing the ball to shooters Zack Novak, Evan Smotrycz and Hardaway Jr. on the way to a 68-64 loss. The Wolverines managed to force Sullinger to foul out in that game, but he still managed 10 points and 7 rebounds. In today's game, the ability of Darius Morris and Jordan Morgan to draw fouls on Sullinger will be nearly as important as Michigan's shooting from the perimeter.
In Ohio State's close victory over Northwestern yesterday, William Buford and Sullinger combined to go 5/26 from the field. It will take more than good defense to get a repeat performance like that from those two players. Michigan's 3-point shooting will be their key to an upset.
|Offense||Michigan||Ohio State||D-1 Average|
|Defense||Michigan||Ohio State||D-1 Average|
Ohio State is a dominant offensive team. Michigan will obviously have trouble containing them, and they'll have to hope the OSU team that went to OT with Northwestern shows up and not the one that destroyed Penn State and Wisconsin in the two games prior. With the athleticism of Hardaway Jr. and Morris on the perimeter, Michigan has a decent chance at containing Buford and Diebler, but there's still the crafty Aaron Craft and Sullinger to deal with. If Jordan Morgan gets into foul trouble, Michigan will have serious problems on the interior. On the other end, Aaron Craft's battle with Darius Morris will be fun to watch. If Morris struggles as much as Jordan Taylor did in his match-up with Craft last week, Michigan won't have much of a chance. It will be Morris' job to put pressure on OSU's interior defense and open up opportunities for the shooters.
Non-stars to Watch
Is anyone on Ohio State not a star? I'd talk about Dallas Lauderdale, but with Michigan's tiny lineup, he's unlikely to get much playing time. I haven't mentioned David Lighty yet. Lighty is "that guy" for OSU. AKA "the glue guy." He's a great athlete and does a little bit of everything. He can shoot, pass and rebound. Most of all, he plays tremendous defense. I expect him to be stuck on Hardaway Jr. for most of the game, and the young Wolverine's ability to make plays on Lighty will have a big impact on this game.
For Michigan to get a win, they will also need a big game from one or more of the Novak/Stu Douglass/Smotrycz trio. All three dudes shoot around 37% from long range, but aren't great at producing their own shots. Fortunately Michigan has a couple of guys capable of breaking down a defense in Hardaway Jr. and Morris. When the ball gets out to the perimeter, it will be up to the sharpshooters to make Ohio State pay.
Ohio State is 10.5-point favorites, but Michigan is playing too well recently to lose by that much. I say Ohio State still takes the game, but more modestly than the spread sees it. Buckeyes 71-64.