It doesn't get much better than this. After both teams survived a scare in the quarterfinals on Friday, the Big Ten's fiercest rivals will play each other on Saturday afternoon (1:40 p.m. ET tip, CBS) in the tournament semifinals. It's offense vs. defense! Ohio State vs. Michigan! Overrated guard vs. overrated guard!
How we got here
After crushing the Illini just 10 days earlier, Michigan went down to the wire with Illinois on Friday in Indianapolis. A big part of that was the Wolverines hitting on just 10 of 30 three-pointers while the Illinois zone limited them to just 17 two-point field goal attempts. Still, Michigan persevered when Nik Stauskas found Jordan Morgan down low on a pick-and-roll for the go-ahead layup with just seconds to play. Tracy Abrams tried to answer with a runner at the buzzer, but he came up short, lifting Michigan to the next round.
As the five seed, Ohio State needed to play two games to get to the semis. On Thursday, Purdue's A.J. Hammons (15 points, nine rebounds, five blocks) had the big game he needed to help the Boilers contend with the Buckeyes. With Ohio State held to just 36 percent shooting, Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, and company needed 20 offensive rebounds and 17 forced turnovers to grind out a 63-61 win.
As big a scare as the Purdue game was, Ohio State dug itself a much deeper hole on Friday, when turnovers and Terran Petteway combined to mire the Bucks with an 18-point deficit in the second half. Yet, that too would be survived by Thad Matta's resilient squad. One of the conference's most underrated players, Ross posted one of his best performances of the season with 26 points and 13 rebounds to push Ohio State to another victory.
These two teams only played each other once during the regular season, which goes to show you why it would be a good idea for the Big Ten to protect certain rivalries the way the ACC does with Duke and North Carolina. Anyway, the Wolverines won in Columbus 70-60 even though the stifling Buckeye defense held them to 42 percent from the field. The key stats? Michigan only turned the ball over nine times, grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, and shot 8-for-17 from beyond the arc.
Because Ohio State is so limited in its ability to hit three-pointers, Craft and Shannon Scott have to do an even better job of running Michigan off the three-point line if they want to win the rematch. That's a tall order considering that Michigan is one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country, but Ohio State could even it out by forcing a few more turnovers. The Wolverines aren't prone to giving the ball up, but the Bucks are so good at steals that they will probably get a few anyway. When that happens, it's double good for Ohio State because steals lead to fast breaks, and the OSU offense is more more effective in transition than in the half court.
Ohio State is going to win this one, because I believe in good defense over good offense. I'm not going to guarantee it, because, hey, Michigan made it to the NCAA Final last year and won this year's Big Ten title on the strength of its offense. However, the Buckeyes have the kind of guards that are ferocious enough to disrupt Michigan's efficient attack. On the other end, Ross has been very tough for opponents to stop lately, and in his last two games he has 28 total rebounds. If Stauskas continues to struggles with his three-point shot (3-for-14 in his last two games), the scarlet and gray should be able to find enough offense to win.