Ohio State (13-6, 3-5) was able to get back in the win column their last time out, picking up a quality victory on the road against the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, Nebraska. The second leg of this two-game road trip will prove to be much more difficult, as the Buckeyes will now head to Ann Arbor to take on rival No. 5 Michigan (19-1, 8-1) in a Super Tuesday matchup. The Big Ten bout will tip-off at 9 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN 2.
The Buckeyes were finally able to end their five-game skid on Saturday afternoon when they beat Nebraska on the road 70-60. Luther Muhammad was the star of the game, dropping a career-high 24 points and hitting 3-of-4 from downtown. The freshman guard also added six boards as well as two assists and three steals. Ohio State’s leading scorer on the season Kaleb Wesson scored just seven points in the contest as a result of foul trouble, something that has plagued him greatly throughout conference play.
Ohio State played like a team that was absolutely desperate for a win, and was able to do a lot of things well that they had not done during their losing streak. While Muhammad was clearly a catalyst for the offense, they moved the ball well as a team and had a pretty even disbursement of shots in the game, moving away from relying on one guy to score like they had been doing with Wesson in previous games. As a result, the Bucks were able to go on a 20-5 run in the second half that fueled their first victory in 2019.
On the defensive end, Ohio State tried a bunch of new things, including the use of a zone defense. After struggling against teams that have played zone against them this season, Chris Holtmann may have figured it was worth a shot to try the strategy on their opponent— and had great success in doing so. During one stretch of the second period, Nebraska went over six minutes without a single field goal. As a team, the Cornhuskers shot just 36 percent from the field.
Even without Wesson on the floor for large stretches of time, the Buckeyes still crashed the boards with authority, another big key to their victory. Ohio State out-rebounded Nebraska by a whopping 45 to 31 margin, including a 14-7 edge on the offensive boards. The second chance opportunities allowed for the Bucks to continue to put points on the board on each possession despite not shooting exceptionally well. They were also able to keep the Cornhuskers off the free throw line, allowing only 12 attempts from the charity stripe all afternoon.
Ohio State can't sit back and celebrate their victory for too long, as they must now take on the Michigan Wolverines — the toughest team they have played yet this season. Michigan has dominated opponents all season long, with their lone loss coming at the hands of Wisconsin in Madison on what was likely a fluke game. Their last time out, they beat up on Indiana 69-46, their seventh win of the season by 20 points or more.
The Wolverines took the lead against the Hoosiers early and never looked back, smothering them from the very beginning. John Beilein’s stifling defense forced Indiana to miss their first 10 field goal attempts, not allowing a single point for over seven minutes. The Hoosier did not score their first points until getting two free throws from Aljami Durham with 12:57 left in the period, and did not get their first field goal until Durham got a shot to fall with 10:15 remaining. All told, Indiana would finish the first half with a paltry 18 points.
While Michigan’s defense was as advertised, so too was their offense. Ignas Brazdeikis led all scorers with 20 points as the Wolverines finished with four players in double figures. The freshman forward has led UM in scoring all season, averaging 15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Brazdeikis was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday for the fourth time this season after averaging 19 points and nine rebounds per game in their wins over Minnesota and Indiana. Including the game against the Hoosiers, Brazdeikis has scored 20 points or more six times this season.
While their offense is good, their defense has really been the key for the Wolverines’ success this season. Now 20 games into the season, Michigan is averaging a point differential of +15.2, holding opponents to an average of 56.5 points. UM has had 13 games holding opponents to 60 points or fewer and five games of holding opponents to 50 or fewer. That defense is led by junior guard Zavier Simpson, who has been named to the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award Watch List. Simpson is averaging 1.8 steals per game this season to go along with 8.8 points and 5.6 assists.
ESPN BPI: Michigan 81.2%
Vegas Line: Michigan -10
Ohio State actually has quite an upper-hand on Michigan in the all-time series. The two rivals have met 181 times, with the Buckeyes holding a 103-78 advantage. The Wolverines won last year’s only meeting, but OSU has won four of the last six against UM. Michigan owns a 48-38 record at the Crisler Center, winning four of the last five meetings played on their home floor. Wolverines head coach John Beilein is 8-15 against Ohio State.
While the past numbers certainly favor the Buckeyes, this season’s numbers do not. Michigan has one of the best defenses in the country, and Ohio State is a team still trying to find their identity on the offensive end. While OSU is averaging slightly more points per game than UM (74.3 PPG to 71.7 PPG, respectively), they have only averaged a little over 66 points per game over their last six contests. Going up against one of the nation’s premier defenses on their home floor with your best player struggling to stay out of foul trouble is not exactly an ideal matchup.
Ohio State will likely keep it relatively close early as the Wolverines try to find a rhythm on offense. However, in the end the Buckeyes young roster will not be able to put together a complete performance on the offensive end to consistency put up points against Beilein’s defense. Michigan will pull away as Brazdeikis looks to score inside early and often, likely forcing Kaleb Wesson to once again ride the pine in foul trouble. The shooting abilities of Luther Muhammad and C.J. Jackson will make Ohio State competitive, but in the end they fall short as the Wolverines get revenge on the hardwood for what happened on the gridiron this past football season.