On Sunday afternoon, the Ohio State Buckeyes traveled to Ann Arbor to face a reeling Michigan team that had lost its last 5 games including two at home. Ohio State was looking to secure a nice road win to add to their resume and sweep Michigan in a season series for the first time since 2010-11 after beating Michigan in Columbus. Michigan was looking to upset its rival and help brighten up a frustrating season.
Unlike Michigan's last few games where they have gotten out to slow starts, the Wolverines played very well early. Zak Irvin made some big shots early in the game, was active on both sides of the court, and managed to get some key rebounds. At halftime, the score was 39-23 Michigan. In the 2nd Half, Michigan maintained much of their momentum early, but the Buckeyes used a huge run in the middle of the 2nd Half to cut the lead to 3 points. However, Michigan hit the late shots and Spike Albrecht made some huge plays down the stretch. The final score was 64-57 and Michigan got its first rivalry win this season.
So what did we learn from Sunday's matchup in Ann Arbor?
What We Learned
Michigan Continues To Fight Despite Adversity
Since Caris LeVert went down with his season-ending injury, much of the discussion around Michigan's team has dealt with the injuries and youth on this team. Still, despite being without LeVert and starting guard Derrick Walton, Jr., Michigan has shown it can compete with some of the Big Ten's better teams. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, much of that has ended on the wrong end of things with tight losses to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. However, this time it was different as Michigan was able to hold onto its large lead and avoid a late game collapse. Particularly, the play of Spike Albrecht and Max Bielfeldt came up big. It's incredibly unlikely that Michigan can make any run at the NCAA Tournament, but getting a big win at home certainly will give the team and fans hope for the games ahead and next season. Michigan has played well at points, but they finally closed the deal on Sunday.
This Is A Bad Loss For Ohio State
Everybody knows that in a rivalry game anything can happen. If there is a team that you have to watch out for on your schedule, it has to be a rival on the road. However, it's unlikely that the NCAA committee is going to ignore this game simply because it was a rivalry matchup. The Buckeyes came in with 71% odds to win according to KenPom and were projected for a 66-61 win. Michigan was 13-13 entering this game and had their work cut out even to make the NIT. For a team like Ohio State, battling for a #4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and for better seeding in March, this was a game they needed to win. They are now 8-6 in the conference and two games out of even the #4 seed and tied with Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa at six conference losses. Things could change with teams in action on Sunday, but there is a realistic chance that Ohio State could even end up matching up with Michigan again in the #8 vs #9 game, which is not where Ohio State fans would like to see their team in Chicago. They needed this game and came up short.
Zak Irvin Could Be Rounding Into Form
One of the bigger developments this season for Michigan has been the play of sophomore Zak Irvin. Many predicted him to having a "coming out" year where he would help to fill the role vacated by players like Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas. Unfortunately, he has been solid, but nowhere near good enough to fill the offseason losses and the injuries to key contributors like Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr. However, Irvin had a sensational game on Sunday that might have even been his best game of the season. He not only scored 15 on 6-12 shooting, but he also had 7 rebounds and 4 assists on the day. He demanded additional defensive attention from the tip and Ohio State even attempted rotating several guys on him to no avail. If Irvin can continue playing anywhere near this level, he could really become a vital piece in the lineup for Michigan and potentially be the difference maker in some of these games that Michigan has lost close. After the game, John Beilein talked about working on specific drills with Irvin to help him see the floor more effectively and it certainly showed with his stellar play all afternoon.
For Michigan, this is a major win that will put at least one good moment on a season that has largely been a forgettable one for Wolverine fans. This is also a big win for Big Ten Tournament seeding as it pushes Michigan into the #9 seed and helps quite a bit for a potential NIT bid.
For Ohio State, this is a bad loss that will likely leave many Buckeye fans scratching their heads. It seemed like the Buckeyes were finally rounding into form, but now find themselves in a major battle to grab a Top 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State has a manageable 3 game stretch coming, but grabbing a win here would have helped quite a bit to helping the team have a good finish to the regular season.
In total, it was an exciting game that looked like it might be a blowout for a segment, but ended up as a nice battle in the final minutes due to a major Ohio State run. Michigan gets Maryland on the road next and Ohio State gets Nebraska at home on Thursday.