Bankers Life Fieldhouse
The Big Ten conference has set the standard for college basketball for the past couple of seasons and have had some of the best teams in the country. So it should come as no surprise that Ohio State, a team that struggled mightily in the month of January and had difficulty closing out the regular season, would be faced with a tough challenge during the Big Ten Tournament. Just to get to the conference semifinals, the Buckeyes had to scratch and claw their way through a pesky Purdue team and fight back after finding themselves in an 18-point hole during the second half against Nebraska on Friday. To reward their efforts, Thad Matta and his team will face off against arch-rival Michigan. At stake? A spot in the Big Ten Championship against the winner of Michigan State-Wisconsin.
The Wolverines are coming off of a scare against Illinois, where a Jordan Morgan layup under 10 seconds gave Michigan the go-ahead basket after a missed floater by the Illini. Michigan has historically had trouble in the Big Ten Tournament, having not won more than one game in the tournament since 1998. After finishing the regular season with five straight wins, the Wolverines have won seven straight games and are looking to make it to the championship game by getting past a familiar foe in Ohio State.
Despite losing preseason All-American Mitch McGary to injury, and sending two of their top players to the NBA, Michigan boasts a 24-7 record and was able to secure a Big Ten regular season championship. Now the Wolverines look to contend for the tournament championship, but will have to get through their biggest rival in Ohio State to get there.
Ohio State and Michigan have only met one other time this season on February 11th, where the Wolverines would prevail 70-60 giving Michigan their first win in Columbus in 11 years. In that game, freshmen came up big for the Wolverines as Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin combined for 23 points while Walton also contributed 10 rebounds and 6 assists. The Buckeyes led at halftime of that game but would eventually be outscored in the second half 44-30.
Dating back to last season, Ohio State has lost the last two meetings with the Wolverines after winning 17 of the previous 20. The Buckeyes are looking to move past that Saturday.
This time around, there's much more on the line as Ohio State tries to even the season series. This game marks the Buckeyes sixth straight appearance in the conference semifinals, a testament to the teams that Thad Matta has been able to recruit and coach while in Columbus. Ohio State has also won three of the last four Big Ten tournaments, making the Buckeyes a dangerous team to deal with no matter the circumstances.
The past two games for Ohio State have been nail-biters until the very end, but if the Buckeyes want a chance at knocking out their arch-rivals, they'll need to bring their A-game and put their first two games in the rear-view mirrors. Playing like Ohio State did against the Boilermakers and the Cornhuskers won't fly against the regular season conference champions.
While both teams have already secured their spot in the NCAA tournament, both teams are looking to improve their résumé further and potentially win the Big Ten Championship. The Wolverines boast the nation's 65th-best offense while the Buckeyes will try and contain their attack with the 10th-best defense in the country.
Against Nebraska, Aaron Craft and Amedeo Della Valle both had tremendous impacts on the game, particularly in the second half. Ohio State got a spark from the bench Friday as Della Valle contributed 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals to help cap a ferocious comeback. Craft only had 6 points, but had key baskets towards the end of the game and finished with 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
Ohio State will need any help they can get to help defeat conference player of the year Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and the rest of the Michigan squad. That means Lenzelle Smith Jr. cannot afford to have a game like he did against the Cornhuskers. Smith Jr. struggled to get things going, shooting 1-4 from the field (all four attempts were from three-point range) totaling 3 points from the senior guard. While he did grab 6 rebounds, Ohio State has to have Lenzelle to be a consistent threat on the offensive side of the ball.
Numbers to Know
That number represents the amount of transition opportunities that Ohio State had against Michigan in their last meeting. For a team that struggles on the offensive side of things, the Buckeyes are going to have to increase their fast break chances to put pressure on the Wolverines early.
That number represents a career-high in points for Ohio State's LaQuinton Ross, who came up big for the Buckeyes in both of their tournament games. Ross was coming off of setting a career-high in rebounds against Purdue (15) and will need another great effort against Michigan if Ohio State wants to win.
The length, in feet (give or take), of Evan Turner's game-winning, buzzer-beating heave in 2010 that beat Michigan 69-68 in the 2010 conference quarterfinals. Why is that statistically important for this game? It's not, but it does provide a great chance to revisit that game one more time.
Cast of Characters
What can be said about Mr. Swoon himself that hasn't already been said? Craft was named 2014 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, as well included on the 2nd Team All-Big Ten. He is the only Buckeye with 1,000 points, 600 assists, 300 steals, and 450 rebounds in a career. With this being his last game against That Team Up North, expect a super-human effort from him in this game.
LaQuinton Ross might not have lived up to expectations this season, but the 6'8 junior forward has helped the Buckeyes overcome their past two opponents while setting career highs in points and rebounds. And get this: Ross became the fourth Buckeye (5th instance) to have multiple double-doubles in a single Big Ten Tournament. In three of the previous four instances, that player went on to be named the tournament's most outstanding player (provided they go on to win the Big Ten championship).
Glenn Robinson III
Glenn Robinson III has been described as the X-factor"for Michigan multiple times by head coach John Beilein. Robinson had 15 points against the Illini on Friday and added 7 rebounds as well. A big game from him could spell big trouble for the Buckeyes on Saturday.
Nik Stauskas has been Michigan's go-to scorer for the year and has succeeded in leading them to a Big Ten regular season championship. Against Illinois, Stauskas had 19 points, going 9-10 from the line. It would be in Ohio State's best interest not to foul the sophomore whenever possible, because there's a good chance he's going to hit those shots.