Value City Arena
The Ohio State Buckeyes enter the second full week of February back in the AP Poll at No. 22 as they play host to a huge conference matchup with the hated Michigan Wolverines.
The Buckeyes have won three consecutive games behind the strong play of senior point guard Aaron Craft.
Craft was named Big Ten Player of the Week in a week which saw Ohio State take down Iowa on the road and dispatch Purdue with relative ease. Craft averaged 12.0 points, 5.0 assists, 4.5 steals, and 3.0 rebounds in the Buckeyes' victories over the Hawkeyes and the Boilermakers.
Craft will need to keep up his streak of much improved plays if Ohio State wants to pull of another upset against the No. 15 Wolverines.
"There's always something special playing against Michigan. The energy in the gym is always a little higher," said Craft on the rivalry between the two schools.
Michigan is entering Tuesday's game on a much different note than the Buckeyes. The Wolverines were stomped out on the road at Iowa on Saturday, 85-67. Michigan's Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Nik Stauskas had a relatively quiet afternoon, scoring 10 points on 3-6 shooting. Stauskas is only shooting 33.3 percent in his last three outings.
The Buckeyes still understand that containing Stauskas is still the key to slowing down the Wolverine offense.
Aaron Craft praised the sophomore guard's growth as a player in his talk with the media Monday afternoon.
"He's expanded his game… He's making the right play and making it at the right time," said Craft.
The Wolverines have continued to push forward, even with the huge loss of sophomore forward Mitch McGary, leaving a big hole in the lineup. Upperclassmen Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford have picked up much of the slack, and Michigan appears to be in contention for another Big Ten regular season crown.
After tough losses to top competition like the Duke Blue Devils and then No. 1 Arizona Wildcats, it seemed like Michigan might falter after Columbus native Trey Burke nearly took them all the way last March.
However, head coach John Beilein has done a great job of defining roles for the team and keeping them focused on the court. Huge road victories in late January against Wisconsin and Michigan State has Michigan looking like they can sustain success year over year in a way that they haven't done since the days of the Fab Five.
"They are back to being Michigan in terms of success in the program," said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta.
The Buckeyes will have to not only mitigate the slashing abilities of Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, but they will have to limit the effectiveness of the deep ball.
The Buckeyes are one of the best teams in the country in terms of opponent's three-point field goal percentage, only allowing their foes to shoot 26 percent.
Michigan scores more than one-third of its points from downtown, so the Buckeyes would seem to have the overall advantage, although Ohio State needs to find a way to manufacture easy baskets on the other end (which given this team's season body of work, is far from a sure thing).
Numbers to Know
The Buckeyes are only allowing 58.9 points per game on the season, which ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring defense. Ohio State will likely play to its strength and try to keep the game against Michigan in the 60s instead of getting into a shootout with a potent Wolverine offense.
As mentioned earlier, Michigan likes to stroke the deep ball whenever they get the chance. They lead the Big Ten in team three-point field goal percentage, shooting at a .391 clip. OSU's number one priority needs to be guarding the perimeter and then the Ohio State big men will have to do a solid job holding down the back end of the defense.
Michigan hits 75.7 percent of its free-throws, which leads the Big Ten. This could be huge in a closely contested game late. The Buckeyes have struggled to close the deal in the last five minutes multiple times this season.
Cast of Characters
Glenn Robinson III
Robinson has been described as the X factor for Michigan multiple times by head coach John Beilein. Robinson only shot 1-7 from the field for two points against Iowa over the weekend, and the sophomore forward sometimes has the tendency to be too passive given his skill set. A big game from Robinson could spell trouble for the Buckeyes.
Caris LeVert is one of the most improved players in the 2013-14 Big Ten campaign. The sophomore guard is averaging 16.2 points per game in his last five games, and he popped off for 22 points in Michigan's road loss to Iowa. The Pickerington, Ohio native would probably like nothing more than to have another huge outing against his home state school.
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Lenzelle Smith has emerged as something of an emotional leader for Ohio State during this three-game winning streak. Smith has made it clear he expects to win big in his final season as a Buckeye, and he now is shooting the ball like you would expect. Ohio State could certainly use another four three-pointers from Smith like the ones he made Saturday against Purdue.
Williams leads Ohio State in field goal percentage (61.4), and rebounds per game (6.2), and blocks per game (1.8). He may seem lackadaisical at times, but Williams has played much better recently. He will continue to be a huge factor for the Buckeyes moving into late February and March.
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