Ohio State's season has been defined by inconsistency. The flashes of greatness have been marred by injuries and the Buckeyes seem to fall one or two plays short when ever a contest is close.
When Michigan State's Denzel Valentine put a knife into the Buckeyes' hearts last week in East Lansing, Mich., it summed up Ohio State's (19-7, 8-5) five losses in the Big Ten this season. The Buckeyes competed and played hard, but a slow start or a sloppy stretch of play seems to doom them in the end.
Senior guard Shannon Scott scored 15 points and dropped five assists in Ohio State's Valentine's Day loss. He told the media Saturday that it's important for the Buckeyes to stay poised and use their extra time off to their advantage against Michigan on Sunday.
"We played hard (against Michigan State). They just made one more shot than us basically," Scott said. "But we know we can't take a step back, though. This league's gonna be tough no matter what or where we go, so we wanna play hard the way we played last game. Just find a way to win, though."
Despite the tough losses, Ohio State still stands at fifth-place in the 14-team conference and coach Thad Matta stands one win away from his 15th consecutive 20-win season as a head coach.
On the other side Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich., it's been a tough season for the defending Big Ten regular season champions. Coach John Beilein has struggled with a lack of size and depth up front after departures from mainstays Mitch McGary (NBA) and Jon Horford (fifth-year transfer).
The loss of its best defender and scorer, Caris LeVert, with a foot injury has made it difficult for Michigan to compete with elite talent in the Big Ten.
Michigan (13-13, 6-8) came into the Schottenstein Center on Jan. 13 and was run out of the building by the Buckeyes and freshman D'Angelo Russell, who scored 21 points on 6-of-12 from the floor and added six assists in the 71-52 rout.
Beilein said Saturday he and his team have used the time off since their Tuesday loss to Michigan State to prepare for the talented Ohio State team and to help put together a game plan on stopping Russell.
"It's tough to compare great to great," Beilein said when asked if Russell stands up to other great Buckeye freshman like Greg Oden and Jared Sullinger. "I think it's really important to say that. He's shown he's in those categories. What I like best about him is he's not just a scorer, he's an incredible passer."
Russell puts a huge burden opposing defenses because he's liable to pull up from anywhere and at time. Beilein praised his ability to shoot from the perimeter, saying many great players don't become quality perimeter shooters until they get to the NBA.
"That kid's a great shooter right now," he said. "So, he's got the unique skill set of being prepared in every way."
Michigan's backcourt has to play Russell tough and force the Buckeyes to go elsewhere offensively. Michigan State did a great job of keeping Russell uncomfortable and put the offensive weight on Scott and the bench.
On the road in Ann Arbor, Ohio State has to make sure it keeps Michigan off the offensive glass and it must look to contain them from the perimeter. Despite Michigan's struggles, it remains above average from three-point range with sharpshooters like Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, Jr.
Numbers to know
Michigan shoots 75 percent from the free-throw line as a team (third in the Big Ten). If the game is close late, this could be a big advantage for the Wolverines.
The Buckeyes are second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot less than 32 percent from behind the arc. They have to stay tight to shooters against an undersized Michigan team that will look to hit from the perimeter early and often.
Michigan averages 7.7 made three-point field goals per game. The Wolverines put up plenty of shots from deep and when they capitalize -- especially at home -- they can be tough to beat.
Cast of characters
After shooting just 4-of-13 against Michigan State a week ago, Russell is due for another huge performance against Michigan. His scoring sets the tone early for Ohio State, so look for him to be aggressive early and often in this huge road matchup for the Buckeyes.
In Loving's return to the court against Michigan State, he only saw five minutes on the floor. If the Buckeyes want to be at their full potential, they need Loving's shooting and length. Look for him to get more minutes this time around in Ann Arbor.
Irvin leads the Wolverines in scoring with 13.5 points per game. He's done a solid job of picking up the scoring slack since Michigan lost its leader, Caris LeVert, and he shoots 35.4 percent from behind the arc.
Albrecht's claim to fame is still the 2013 national championship game, but the diminutive guard is still liable to pop off for a huge game. He tends to step up in the biggest moments, and it doesn't get a lot bigger than Ohio State vs. Michigan in any sport.
How to watch
Time: 1 p.m.
Radio: 97.1 The Fan
TV channel: CBS (Channel 1010 on Time Warner Columbus)
Live streaming online: CBSSports.com