On Tuesday, the Ohio State Buckeyes went on the road for a rivalry battle against the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor. It would be the only time that the two teams are set to meet in the regular season after splitting the series last season. As such, both sides were hoping to get a marquee rivalry win.
Early on, Ohio State came out with some momentum. Kaleb Wesson scored a few early buckets and was able to keep the Wolverines out of position on the defensive end. Michigan also struggled to hit open jumpers. However, as the half carried on, Jordan Poole started to heat up and the Wolverines took a narrow 32-26 lead into halftime.
In the second half, it was all Michigan. Zavier Simpson took over on both sides of the court and ended up finishing with a triple-double against the Buckeyes. Ultimately, Michigan was able to unload the bench in the final minutes and grabbed a 65-49 win over Ohio State. The Wolverines improved to 20-1 with the win and the Buckeyes fell to 13-6 overall.
So, what did we learn?
What We Learned:
1. The Wolverines are still elite on the defensive end when needed.
Over the last few weeks, Michigan has shown some offensive flaws. The team has been inconsistent from deep and has had a few too many turnovers. Those flaws certainly played a huge factor in costing Michigan in its road trip to Wisconsin.
However, if fans needed anymore proof about Michigan’s defense, they got it on Tuesday night. The Wolverines were absolutely suffocating all night and held Ohio State to its lowest scoring total of the season. And in the final minutes, the frustration of going against that defense likely played a part in causing an on-court altercation took place between the Buckeyes and Wolverines.
Michigan entered the game as the best defense in the country according to KenPom and it’s hard to argue with that after Tuesday’s matchup. The Wolverines were excellent on the defensive side of the floor and that defense will keep the team in any game.
2. Zaiver Simpson remains the leader for this Michigan squad.
Much has been made of Michigan’s balanced approach so far this season. The Wolverines can get scoring from all five positions and there isn’t a clear statistical leader. Charles Matthews can be the guy on one night and Jordan Poole can step up on another. Michigan’s a balanced team offensively and there’s no player that dominates the team’s possessions.
But the Wolverines do have an emotional leader.
And that’s Zavier Simpson.
During his two-year stint as Michigan’s starting point guard, Simpson has emerged as Michigan’s emotional leader and it showed on Tuesday night. He played a massive part on the defensive end and put up a significant statistical night, finishing with a triple-double. Chris Holtmann was especially complimentary of Simpson on Tuesday night, calling him a “tremendous” player and crediting him with Michigan’s ability to pull out games.
Michigan can’t solely rely on Simpson to get things done, but there’s little denying that he came up in a major way on Tuesday night.
3. The Buckeyes can’t let this loss turn into another skid.
Ohio State may have been coming off a win entering this game, but the Buckeyes have had a rough go of it lately. The team lost five straight before beating Nebraska on the road on Saturday afternoon. All told, the Buckeyes will finish January with a 1-6 record.
The important thing for the Buckeyes moving forward will be avoiding a second slide. Ohio State remains in decent shape for the NCAA Tournament, but the margin for error is a lot smaller than it was a few weeks ago. To put it in perspective, KenPom is currently projecting Ohio State to finish the regular season at 19-12, which would likely put the Buckeyes squarely on the bubble. Anymore upset losses would be devastating to the team’s hopes.
Ohio State will get two winnable games at home next with Rutgers on Saturday and Penn State on Thursday. Those games can’t be losses if the team wants to be in good shape for the NCAAs at season’s end.
4. The offense needs another playmaker.
With Tuesday’s game in the books, Ohio State has now played 20 games on the season and nine games in Big Ten play. We’ve seen the ups and down of this team. The Buckeyes have looked great at times and like a Big Ten bottom dweller at other points. It hasn’t all been pretty, but we have a pretty good grasp on what this team is right now.
And what is this team right now?
It’s a solid defensive squad that’s largely one-dimensional on offense.
Ohio State has been overly reliant on Kaleb Wesson in the post during the course of this season. The Buckeyes need him to make plays and distribute the ball. Another guy will go off here and there, but he’s been the key piece. And when Ohio State has faced teams capable of taking Wesson out of the game, things have gotten ugly.
Ohio State will win a decent amount of games relying on Wesson, but it’s not going to be able to compete at the top of the Big Ten without another option emerging. Over the coming weeks, the Buckeyes need to find a secondary playmaker. That will be the key to this season.
Tuesday was a classic Big Ten rivalry game. It was a physical brawl between two really solid teams. All told, Michigan was able to pull away in the second half thanks to Simpson and improve on its record-breaking season.
Michigan will now prepare for a road trip to Iowa on Friday and Ohio State will prepare to face Rutgers at home on Saturday.