It feels like forever ago that the Ohio State men’s basketball team was finishing off a beatdown of Northwestern in Evanston to move to 10-3 overall and 2-0 in conference play, having some thinking that this Buckeye team could make some noise in the Big Ten this season.
Since that game on New Year’s Day, the Buckeyes are 1-8 in the conference, and they have fallen to 12th in the B1G standings at 11-11 overall and 3-8 in Big Ten play. They are only in front of Nebraska and Minnesota — both teams the Buckeyes have lost to. To add insult to injury, the Buckeyes are the Golden Gophers’ lone conference win (1-10).
But the show must go on, and Ohio State has to finish this thing out whether they want to or not. The season is not entirely over, and if they can get somehow get to 17 or 18 wins including the Big Ten Tournament, they will give themselves a chance to participate in the -play-in game of the NCAA Tournament.
It starts in Ann Arbor, as the Buckeyes travel to take on the Michigan Wolverines (12-8, 6-5). Michigan is coming off an impressive 68-51 win at Northwestern. However, in the four games before that, the Wolverines were 1-3 with the only win coming in a close contest against a Minnesota squad down six scholarship players to injuries.
Michigan is 8-3 at home, and the Buckeyes 1-6 on the road — that lone win coming at Northwestern. The Buckeyes have lost three in a row to Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. They trailed by double digits at the half in all three of those games.
Both teams need a win to get their season back on track. Michigan just picked up their first Quad 1 win on Thursday, and will look to keep that momentum going against the collapsing Buckeyes.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann was also ejected against Wisconsin for the second time as the Buckeyes head man, and this was the first time it occurred in the first half.
This game features two statistically above average offenses and two statistically below average defenses, but there is more to it than that. The Buckeyes have been struggling of late on offense and defense, which is not a recipe for success in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes are third in the conference in offense and ninth in the conference on defense, and Michigan is fifth in the conference on offense but ranked 13th on defense, only ahead of Iowa. Iowa makes up for it as the top offensive team in the conference, at least.
For Ohio State, freshman sensation Brice Sensabaugh still leads the way offensively. Sensabaugh is averaging 17.4 points per game while shooting 47.5 percent from the three-point line. He has also turned into a reliable rebounder, averaging 5.4 per game, which is second on the team, behind only Zed Key’s 7.7 per contest.
West Virginia transfer Sean McNeil is the Buckeyes resident sharpshooter, but he is only averaging 9.6 points per game while shooting 39 percent from behind the three-point line. They need him to get more involved on offense and the team needs to create more looks for him, as he is their best pure shooter and spreads the floor out for the Buckeyes.
Michigan is led by a familiar face, as junior big man Hunter Dickinson is averaging 17.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He is shooting 55 percent from the field and 38 percent from behind the three-point line.
Michigan freshman Jett Howard is right in the running with Sensabaugh and Indiana’s Jalen Hood-Schifino for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and rightfully so. Howard is averaging 14.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per contest, and shooting almost 40 percent from the three-point line.
The Buckeyes are fourth in the conference in three-point percentage, and are second in the conference in opponent three-point percentage. They need to run this game through the perimeter and not Key, with him still dealing with an injury. They have to run sets to get open looks for McNeil, Sensabaugh and others, and force someone other than Dickinson to beat them from Michigan. Kobe Bufkin could be the key for the Wolverines if Ohio State can slow down the big man.
This one is tough to predict because both teams have been Jekyll and Hyde this season. Michigan is coming off one of their more impressive performances of the campaign, but they really struggled in the four games prior. Ohio State has struggled for a month now, but they have still beaten Rutgers, Iowa, and Northwestern this season in the conference — three teams that could all go dancing in March.
Ohio State is still a talented team, and they feel due for a performance similar to the Iowa game. It has been said many times but it still remains true: The Buckeyes need the veterans to step up, namely Justice Sueing and Zed Key. Sueing and Key are the old guys on the roster and the leaders, and they have struggled. Sueing has been inconsistent and turnover prone, and Key has not been the same since his shoulder injury against Purdue.
If they can get a good game from these two guys and a normal showing from all their freshmen, this is a very winnable game. Michigan has talent, but they are not deep in their bench and their starters can be inconsistent at times. I will go out on a limb here and say the Buckeyes get a balanced offensive effort from their starters and take home a much needed win.
Ohio State has to play like they have nothing to lose, because they simply don’t. Take risks, play fast, shoot the ball and do anything you can to get back in the win column.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 61.6%
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
DraftKings Sportsbook Odds: Michigan -2.5