Things have been on the up-and-up for the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team - at least for the last two games. Yes, after running through an impressive non-conference schedule with just a single loss, the Buckeyes floundered in the first half of in Big Ten play in January.
But that’s changed - once again, as far as the last two games are concerned. That’s because Ohio State beat Northwestern on the road (the Buckeyes’ first conference road win of the year). The team followed up with a decisive conquering of Indiana back in Columbus.
The Buckeyes are currently sitting at 14-7 overall. With an even 10 games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State looks poised to continue its turnaround and get back to the winning ways the team so enjoyed at the start of the season.
A win streak? Perhaps. But the team has a big test ahead as they prepare to face rival Michigan tonight at 7 p.m. EST at Value City Arena.
Tonight’s matchup is the first of two against the Wolverines this season as the Buckeyes are coming off a two-game win streak against Northwestern and Indiana. While Ohio State’s play still seems a far cry from where it was during the non-conference slate, this streak is the first time Ohio State has won two-straight since December.
In that most recent win over the Hoosiers Saturday, junior forward Kaleb Wesson once again proved why he is the leader on this Ohio State team. Wesson led all scorers with 15 points and 11 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the year. Junior point guard CJ Walker wasn’t too far behind, pouring in 14 points on the afternoon. Even more impressive was Walker’s assist-to-turnover ratio, which was an even 2.0 for the game.
The Buckeyes were without point guard D.J. Carton Saturday, as the freshman is taking a temporary absence from the team for mental health reasons. Carton had been averaging 10.4 points per game on nearly 48% shooting, and, with the Buckeyes in a skid, questions remained as to who would fill the void left by the star freshman.
However, Ohio State didn’t have to wait long to find its answer. In addition to Walker stepping up, playing 36 minutes against the Hoosiers, sophomore forward Justin Ahrens scored 11 points in just 14 minutes of play.
Shooting was something of a tale of two halves for Ohio State, despite the Buckeyes leading 31-22 at the break. After connecting on just 3-of-13 three-point attempts in the first, the Buckeyes shot 7-of-14 in the second.
In all, the Buckeyes and Hoosiers were roughly even in shooting, with Ohio State connecting on more than 46% of shots from the field. However, Ohio State’s three-point defense proved abysmal, with Indiana making 7-of-12 attempts (58.3%). The Buckeyes collected 31 rebounds to Indiana’s 24, recorded 19 assists and had just 10 turnovers — a vast improvement for a team that averages 13.5 per game.
Now, after an away win and home win, respectively, Ohio State must once again hit the road as the Buckeyes head to Ann Arbor to face Michigan. With the Buckeyes’ latest win against Northwestern under their belts, Ohio State is now 1-4 in five true road games in the Big Ten thus far this season.
While Ohio State has certainly struggled in Big Ten play, especially on the road — as, frankly, most Big Ten teams seem to have done in the past month — the Buckeyes at least hold a slight edge over Michigan. The Wolverines enter the matchup tied with Ohio State with a 4-6 Big Ten mark, good for 12th in the conference, but are a game back with a 13-8 overall record. Like the Buckeyes, Michigan is also riding a two-game win streak.
Most recently, the Wolverines extended their win streak at Madison Square Garden to 10 games when they overcame then-No. 25 Rutgers.
In that matchup, which the Wolverines took 69-63, sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr. led all scorers with 20 points on the day. Senior center Jon Teske added 13 while freshman guard Franz Wagner, the younger brother of former Michigan star Moritz Wagner, poured in 10.
Michigan shot nearly 47% from the field while holding the Scarlet Knights to 32.5% shooting. Impressively, the Wolverines connected on 9-of-19 from range (47.4%) to Rutgers’ 6-of-24 (25%). However, the Scarlet Knights outrebounded Michigan 51-37, and the Wolverines coughed up the ball 16 times.
On the sideline, Michigan basketball is led by former Michigan great Juwan Howard of Fab Five fame. Howard, the fifth-overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft, returns to his alma mater in his first head coaching role after spending several seasons as an assistant with the Miami Heat.
On the court, Teske has proven to be a leader throughout the season, averaging 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game — both team highs. The senior has also been shooting 53% from the field. Senior guard Zavier Simpson, meanwhile, has the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big Ten at 2.4.
Offensively, Michigan boasts the top field goal percentage in the conference, connecting on 46.9% of shots.
On the flip side, Michigan has put forth one of the worst scoring defenses in the Big Ten, allowing more than 69 points per game on 42.6% shooting.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 47.3%
Injuries have certainly been a theme this season for Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ win against Indiana was no exception, nor will today’s matchup versus Michigan be without its fair share of absences as the Buckeyes will be without Carton. As the freshman works to recover, his teammates must continue to step up.
One of the other themes this season has been the utter dominance of the home team in Big Ten play. Combined with the rivalry game aspect of today’s game and suddenly the odds look very much against Ohio State.
Recent memory certainly doesn’t favor the Buckeyes in this matchup, as Ohio State’s marquee wins over top non-conference opponents feel far, far off. However, the Buckeyes have a little momentum — including their first road win of Big Ten play — which could carry them through tonight’s matchup.