On men's basketball: Wolverines will catch the Buckeyes soon, not this year

Chris Dzombak/Daily
Michigan head coach John Beilein during the Michigan vs. Ohio State men's basketball game, Thursday, February 3, 2011. Ohio State won the game, 62-53. Buy this photo

Daily Sports Writer
Published February 3, 2011

COLUMBUS — If only John Beilein had a fast forward button.

Thursday night’s matchup between the Wolverines and the top-ranked Buckeyes was yet another sign that it just isn’t Michigan’s year to shine on the hardwood.

Beilein’s squad didn’t play a polished game of basketball — not even close. In Michigan’s 62-53 loss to Ohio State, the Wolverines were just 6-for-19 from beyond the arc. They lost the rebounding battle yet again. They finished with more turnovers than assists. And they picked up a whopping 23 team fouls — the team’s Achilles heel all night long.

But could you have really expected anything different? The man-to-man matchups in this game were just silly — it was hard not to laugh out loud during the team introductions. Redshirt freshman forward Jordan Morgan on senior Dallas Lauderdale. Freshman Tim Hardaway Jr. on senior David Lighty. Freshman forward Evan Smotrycz on freshman center Jared Sullinger.

I’m not kidding — that last one actually happened. The slow-footed, relatively unathletic Smotrycz was expected to lock down 6-foot-9, 280-pound player-of-the-year candidate Jared Sullinger. Yeah, like that was going to happen.

It didn’t matter much when Smotrycz had help either. Late in the first half, Sullinger streaked to the hoop, and senior William Buford lofted an alley-oop pass from the perimeter. Michigan junior guard Zack Novak eased off his man to step in front of the play, only to get posterized and have Sullinger’s feet dangling in his face as the Columbus native hung on the rim for what seemed like ten seconds.

I know you’re tired of hearing this. In fact, I’m tired of saying it. And I’m tired of Beilein saying it. But its just the fact: Michigan is young — too young to beat the Buckeyes this year, along with a number of other experienced Big Ten teams.

But here’s something different, something constructive.

In Beilein’s eyes, and in mine, the Wolverines are built to win this battle in the long run. I’m telling you this because it’s hard to see it without going into the locker room after games. It’s not something you notice from a baseline seat in the Maize Rage, or from your couch as you watch Sullinger rack up 19 points against Michigan on ESPN.

One year from now, the Wolverines will win this game.

After this season, Ohio State will bode farewell to an incredibly talented senior class. Bye-bye Lauderdale. Bye-bye Lighty. Bye-bye Jon Diebler. And at that point, why would Sullinger stay? Bye-bye Jared Sullinger, have fun in the NBA.

That’s not to say the Buckeyes are going to be pushovers, as freshmen forward Deshaun Thomas and point guard Aaron Craft are well on their way to becoming premiere Big Ten talents. But all of a sudden, they’ll only have one senior in Buford (There are three, actually, but have you ever heard of Nikola Kecman and Evan Ravenel? Yeah, me neither).

Then, you look at the Wolverines, who will do nothing but welcome new faces to next year’s squad. Everybody will be a year older. Nobody is leaving.

Here’s what will happen next winter: Michigan’s young frontcourt defense will learn to be in the right position more often, so Smotrycz and Hardaway won't combine for nine fouls. Morgan will learn that he’s too undersized to go straight up to the hoop, so he’ll show off some more polished post moves to score. Sophomore point guard Darius Morris will learn that he can’t always score by dribbling into traffic, so he won't turn the ball over six times.

Oh, and something you may not have seen on ESPN — Michigan commit Trey Burke, one of the nation’s top point guard recruits, was decked out in maize and blue at a hostile Value City Arena.

When I asked Beilein about his conversation with Burke after the game, he didn’t tell me much. But the ear-to-ear grin on his face was all I needed to see.

Michigan’s future is bright. Beilein knows it. Ohio State coach Thad Matta knows it. I know it.

And soon, everyone will know it.