The University of Michigan (17-6, 9-2) travels to Columbus, OH to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes (19-5, 6-5) tonight at 9pm. The Wolverines are coming off an embarrassing 18-point loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes; a game that featured one of the worst efforts of the season by the Maize and Blue. Ohio State on the other hand is coming into this game much hotter. While the Buckeyes had a dismal January (all five losses came in that month) their February couldn’t have started any better. The Buckeyes are coming off three straight wins, including victories over Wisconsin and Iowa, both on the road. So now that we see how these teams have been performing as of late, let’s look at the keys for both teams.
Keys for Ohio State
When Ohio State is successful, it has a lot to do with their defense. They rank 9th nationally in points allowed per game (58.9). That’s pretty impressive, especially when you consider that every single team in the Big Ten averages over that amount.
That kind of defensive effort needs to be there tonight against the Wolverines. More specifically, it needs to be there against Nik Stauskas. When Stauskas has more than 15 points, Michigan is 12-2. When he has less than that, Michigan is 4-4. The Buckeyes will need to find a way to slow Stauskas down.
Obviously defense alone can’t win you the game. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, their offense hasn’t been what they want it to be this season. Averaging just under 72 points a game, they rank 9th in the Big Ten. Just two players, LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. average double digit points per game, and neither of them average over 15.
In order for Ohio State to win, they are going to need these two to bring their A-game. While OSU’s defense is solid, they aren’t going to completely shut down Michigan’s offense. Ross shoots over 40% from three, and as we saw in the Iowa game, Michigan is susceptible to guys who can get hot from long range. OSU will need to take advantage of that.
Keys for Michigan
The counter to the first key for Ohio State is that Michigan needs to get Nik Stauskas going. His success opens up a lot for other players. Stauskas only took 6 shots against Iowa, so it wasn’t even a matter of him being cold against the Hawkeyes, he just wasn’t getting open. The Wolverines have to find a way for him to get some space.
While Stauskas is undoubtedly the most important player for the Wolverines offensively, someone else needs to step up. Caris LeVert did his best to carry Michigan’s offense against Iowa, but the Wolverines could really use some more balance, and against a team that is as good defensively as OSU is, that will be important. It’s time that Glenn Robinson III steps up in a big game.
The Wolverines have gotten very little help in the post from their two big men as of late. In the last three games, these two have combined for a total of 16 points. That’s a little over 5 points per game between the two. While neither is known for their scoring, getting double digits from the post position against the Buckeyes would be a huge boost for this Michigan basketball team.
Turnovers will be big for the Wolverines. Against an elite defense like the one Ohio State will put on the court tonight, Michigan will not be able to afford too many wasted possessions. While they are top ten in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (just under 10) they have been a little sloppier than usual lately (they’ve given up almost 12 per game in their last three outings), and Ohio State ranks in the top 35 nationally in turnovers forced per game coming up with almost 15 per contest. How disciplined Michigan is with the ball might decide their fate tonight in Columbus.
This is going to be a tough game for both teams. Ohio State has shown that they aren’t invincible at home (two of their five losses came in Columbus) but we all know that no road game in the Big Ten is easy, so Michigan will have their work cut out for them. At the end of the day, Ohio State is coming in hot, and Value City Arena will be rocking. I see the Buckeyes winning a close, low scoring game. 71-69 Buckeyes.