Tuesday, the Michigan men’s basketball team (9-4 Big Ten, 19-7 overall) will travel to Columbus to take on a middling Ohio State team that has only one win in the top-100 RPI.
The Buckeyes’ less-than-ideal start to the season included consecutive losses to UT Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis in November, after losing star guard D’Angelo Russell to the NBA Draft following last season. Russell averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and five assists last year, leading Ohio State to the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Now, with Russell gone, the team’s leadership has fallen on sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate and junior forward Marc Loving.
Tate has done his part to keep the Buckeyes (8-5, 16-10) competitive, scoring 11.5 points per game in addition to Loving’s 12.5 points per game. Tate scored 22 points against Rutgers on Feb. 13 and 16 points against then-No. 3 Maryland on Jan. 31 in a close 61-66 loss. Though Ohio State has been far from consistent, it has played tough recently, winning four of its last six Big Ten games.
The Buckeyes will look to continue their two-game winning streak against their biggest rival, Michigan, in front of a hungry Value City Arena on Tuesday.
The Daily sat down with Tate — who has started every game this season for the Buckeyes — at Big Ten Media Day in October to discuss former high school teammate and current rival Caris LeVert, the unknown potential for a young Ohio State team and Tate’s expected contribution as a team leader.
The Michigan Daily: I know that you were a teammate of Caris LeVert’s in high school. I heard a story about how he took a shot at the buzzer, and you tipped it in, and your team won 64-62 for the state title. What’s your relationship with Caris like?
Jae’Sean Tate: Me and Caris went to high school together; we won a state championship together. But I’ve been watching Caris since I was in about the seventh or eighth grade. Just to see him progress and where he came from — it’s crazy. I promise you, I kid you not, he could not dunk his sophomore year in high school and then he just worked over the summer and, I mean, he just went through the roof. He got blessed to get a scholarship to Michigan, and he’s taken off ever since.
TMD: Are there any hard feelings there because of the rivalry?
JT: I’ve run into him a couple times while I’ve been (at Ohio State). It’s always good to catch up with old friends. That’s like my brother.
TMD: You said that you remember seeing him play in seventh and eighth grade. Did you ever play with him at that young of an age?
JT: No, he’s about three years older than me, so I would just watch him play against the older guys … (Our competition level has) always been high. Just to play against him his last year, and he’s finally healthy, I’m looking forward to it.
TMD: What’s the unknown for Ohio State, other than all of the newcomers?
JT: Like you said, we have a young group of guys this year, but we’re still very talented, very lengthy. We’ve got some athletic guys. We’ve got some guys who can play to multiple roles on this team, and I feel as if everyone on this team will be vital.
TMD: Earlier today, Ohio State coach Thad Matta mentioned that you were going to have to be a big part of this team. Is that a lot of pressure?
JT: I wouldn’t say a lot of pressure, because I feel like history repeats itself. Like I said, with me and Caris, that year we won the state championship, he left, and then I was the older guy. A few years later, I’m in the same position, where I’m on a young team and I have to be a leader, so I’m prepared for it, and I’m accepting it now.
Note: The Daily checked in with LeVert to confirm he couldn’t dunk until his sophomore year of high school.
“Yeah, that’s definitely true,” LeVert said. “I didn’t get my first dunk in a real game until AAU season going into my senior year (of high school).”
But does LeVert have any bad blood with Tate?
“Oh no, that’s like my little brother.”