Ohio State’s comeback win over Michigan back in December was unexpected at the time. It was the second conference game for the Buckeyes in a season full of scheduling quirks, and few had any gauge of how good Chris Holtmann’s squad actually was in his first year at the helm. It seemed like it was probably a fluke, and the 2-0 conference record that the Buckeyes carried for the rest of the month seemed likely to fall once Big Ten play started in earnest.
As it turns out, the win over Michigan in Columbus was not a fluke at all, but an indication of how good the Buckeyes truly would be this season. Now, eighth-ranked Ohio State looks to continue to improve its stellar conference record as it heads to Ann Arbor for its second matchup against the No. 22 Wolverines this season.
Despite the strong season up to this point, the Buckeyes seemed to fall apart in their most recent contest at Penn State on Thursday. The Nittany Lions doubled up on Ohio State in the second half and, despite a comeback that drew the Buckeyes within 16, Penn State ultimately pulled out a 79-56 win at home. Junior point guard C.J. Jackson led Ohio State in scoring with 13 points, while junior forward Keita Bates-Diop had 10 points and five rebounds. With the loss, the Buckeyes fell to 22-6 on the season, including 13-2 in conference play. Despite being tied with Michigan State atop the conference standings, Ohio State holds the tiebreaker over the Spartans after defeating them in Columbus in January and would have the edge in seeding in the conference tournament.
Michigan, meanwhile, is sitting at 21-7 on the year with a 10-5 conference record. The Wolverines are fifth in the conference standings, just behind a surprising Nebraska squad, with losses to Purdue (two), Northwestern, Nebraska and Ohio State. The Wolverines are winners of two straight, with their most recent victory coming Wednesday night over Iowa 74-59 in Ann Arbor. Senior guard Duncan Robinson led Michigan with 18 points on the night.
Michigan will be celebrating senior day during its last home game of the season this afternoon. Their remaining schedule includes road games at Penn State and Maryland next week prior to the Big Ten Tournament.
Jim Beilein is in his 11th season as head coach at Michigan, and has an overall record of 236-142 with a 109-87 conference mark. He has taken the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament seven times, and is expected to make it eight this season. With their most recent win in December, Ohio State leads the all-time series with Michigan 97-76.
Numbers to know
The Buckeyes’ three-point field goal percentage Thursday. Ohio State missed its first eight shots from three-point range against Penn State, and connected on just two the entire night. In his first game back after a three-game suspension, senior guard Kam Williams, who had previously led the Buckeyes in threes this season, missed all three of his shots from range. Comparatively, they allowed the Nittany Lions to shoot 45 percent from behind the arc. Both are a far cry from Ohio State’s average for the season. The Buckeyes, while not a prolific three-point shooting team, have connected on 35 percent of their shots from range this season, while allowing about the same from opponents. Though Michigan is not as strong from three-point range as Penn State, the Wolverines are still hitting greater than 36 percent from three.
How many points per game Michigan has allowed opponents this season on average. That’s best in the Big Ten and 10th nationally. Coincidentally, they’ve managed this mark despite poor field goal defense. The Wolverines allow opponents to shoot 44 percent from the floor and 35 percent from three. However, Michigan has had success in extending possessions, with the Wolverines averaging just 67 possessions per game, but getting nearly 1.1 points per on offense. By limiting the number of possessions, and being more efficient than their opponents on each one, the Wolverines have kept games tight and low-scoring. In fact, the Wolverines have won two games this year without scoring 60 points. Ohio State’s offense sputtered against Penn State, hitting its lowest point total of the season with 56. They will need to be far more efficient this afternoon against the Wolverines.
How many days the Buckeyes have to play their final four regular season games before the Big Ten Tournament begins. Ohio State opened the stretch on the road with Penn State Thursday before heading to Ann Arbor for this afternoon’s matchup. In two days, they are scheduled to return to Columbus to face Rutgers in their final home game of the season. Then, in the regular season finale three days later, Ohio State heads to Bloomington to face Indiana for the second time this season. The conference as a whole faced a condensed schedule this season in order to accommodate the Big Ten Tournament’s earlier start date. The tournament is scheduled a week earlier than normal due to its location at Madison Square Garden, and the fact that the Big East Tournament is taking place the following week at the same venue. The good news for Ohio State is that they will have a longer rest period between the end of the Big Ten Tournament and the start of the NCAA Tournament. The bad news is that there is a limit to how well a tired team can play to have a strong showing in the conference tournament.
Cast of characters
The redshirt junior forward had one of his worst games of the season against Penn State, but unlike in previous poor performances, no one else on the team was able to pick up the slack. Bates-Diop is averaging 19.6 points per game--now tied atop the Big Ten standings with Penn State’s Tony Carr after the latter’s 30-point performance on Thursday. However, Michigan is not discounting the Buckeyes’ leading scorer heading into this matchup.
“If Keita Bates-Diop had been (healthy) last year they’d have probably made the NCAA Tournament and been very good,” said Beilein.
While Thad Matta’s squad had some serious issues in his final season as head coach, there is a kernel of truth in Beilein’s words. Bates-Diop was a strong performer in his sophomore season, averaging double figures in scoring before sitting out most of his true junior season last year. In the few games he did play last season, Bates-Diop injected an offensive surge to a lackluster team. Now, he seems to be reaching his full potential, but he will need more performances like he had against Purdue, and less of what Thursday night had to offer.
On a night when no one seemed able to find any sort of consistency on offense, only Jackson had any semblance of offensive firepower. Jackson had 13 points on 45.5 percent shooting. He’s been averaging 12.5 points per game this season, and leads the team with 4.1 assists per game. While turnovers were an issue for Jackson early on this season, he has cleaned it up in the last couple of weeks. He had two against Purdue and one each against Iowa and Penn State. Against a team like Michigan which limits possessions, Ohio State cannot afford to cough up the ball without getting to the basket. However, Jackson would be an advantage on the free throw line in a low-scoring affair. Along with Bates-Diop, Jackson is shooting greater than 80 percent from the stripe, and a tightly-contested game could come down to free throws.
The shooting guard is one of four seniors who will be recognized on senior day this afternoon at the Crisler Center. Abdur-Rahkman is the only member of the 2014 recruiting class who is still with the program. He has exceeded most expectations in his time in Ann Arbor after coming in as a two-star recruit in an otherwise highly-touted class. Instead of warming the bench, he has started three out of four seasons, showing progressive improvement each year. This season, Abdur-Rahkman is averaging 11.7 points per game, good for third on the team, but he has been picking it up over the last few games. Most recently against Iowa, he had 18. And while the senior’s 3.2 assists per game are not the highest on the team, his assist-to-turnover ratio of 6.0 is the best in the nation, and he has recorded just 15 turnovers the entire season.
The power forward from Berlin has started each of the last two seasons in Ann Arbor, but almost left school for the NBA Draft following last season’s Sweet 16 run. His comeback has been good for Michigan, as Wagner is averaging a team-best 14.6 points and 7.3 boards per game. In the last outing against Ohio State, Wagner led his team in scoring with 14 points on the day. This season, Wagner has been the Wolverine’s best shooter, connecting on 53.3 percent of his shots from the field, including nearly 40 percent from three-point range. Unlike an Isaac Haas-type of player, Wagner is able to score both down low and from range. On a team that doesn’t have a lot of big men, Wagner presents a matchup problem for opponents.
How to watch
Game time: 1 p.m. EST
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM
Streaming: CBS Sports