After thrashing Indiana by 30 at home, the Michigan men’s basketball team followed the impressive performance with the polar opposite in East Lansing, losing to Michigan State, 70-62.
Michigan stuck around for most of the game, but poor shooting against a stout defense did the Wolverines in, and they missed out on a chance to take sole possession of fourth place in the Big Ten.
Now, the Wolverines will have to right the ship against a struggling Ohio State team in Crisler Center to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
After a strong non-conference showing, which saw the Buckeyes start 7-1 with a narrow two-point loss to No. 9 Virginia, Ohio State stumbled out of the gate in conference play, starting 0-4 with losses to Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes recovered and won their next two games against Michigan State and Nebraska, but they have gone just 1-3 since, most recently losing to Maryland at home.
Much like the Wolverines, Ohio State coach Thad Matta’s team has been plagued by its defense. Once a stout unit in non-conference play, the Buckeyes’ defense has wilted, and their offense has struggled to make up for its deficiencies.
Ohio State is led on offense by forward Jae’Sean Tate, who leads the team in scoring with 14.3 points per game. Tate put up a stat line of 20 points, four assists, and four rebounds against Maryland.
With Tate at the ‘3’, the Buckeyes have forwards Marc Loving and Trevor Thompson at the ‘4’ and ‘5’, respectively. Thompson leads the team with 9.2 rebounds per game, while Loving averages 5.1 boards.
Thompson and his 7-foot frame, especially, will be a challenge inside for Michigan sophomore forward Moritz Wagner.
The Daily sat down with Tate at Big Ten Media Day in October to talk about the 2015-16 season in which Ohio State went 21-14, the Buckeyes’ expectations this season and his relationship with Michigan freshman forward Ibi Watson who, like Tate and former Wolverine guard Caris LeVert, attended Pickerington High School Central.
The Michigan Daily: Reflecting on last season, a little bit up and down, what did you take away from a year when the team was young and you still managed to string together some success?
Jae’Sean Tate: Last year, it was definitely a humbling one and I learned a lot from it. We learned how important the summer is. We learned how important out of conference play is. We learned how important buying into what Coach Matta said is.
So all those things right there are the reasons why we weren’t successful, why we went to the NIT. We were what, a game or two away from making the (NCAA) Tournament? Not being ready, not preparing the right way, not being ready to play in the out of conference games, that’s the reason why.
TMD: Do you think that came from youth, from a little bit lack of experience? What was it in your mind?
JT: I felt it was just preparation, not respecting your opponents, not finishing our games. There were some times when we’d be up at halftime or 10 minutes going in, and we’d just lose it. But also, I feel like (it was) a little bit of being young.
We made some of the wrong decisions, but I feel like that year — two years under our belt — will help us. Also bringing in Coach Jent, and Coach Matta taking a different approach in coaching and helping us learn on and off the court, I feel like this year should be a good one.
TMD: Where do you guys set the bar for this year, given that you’re still a young roster but you’re young with experience?
JT: Just to know that we can’t make the same mistakes that we did last year. Like I said, the preseason work and the out of conference play matters. Finishing out games matters. The expectation is that we go into every game ready. There were some times during the season where we weren’t ready to play and we’d go down 10. Now we’re in the hole (down by) 10 and we’re fighting for our life.
TMD: You mentioned a difference in how you approached the summer. Is it in terms of attitude at those (summer) workouts or number of workouts?
JT: Not even that, it’s just doing what you’re supposed to do. Whether that’s not missing a rep, being on time, doing work, being on time to class — just being an all-around good person you know what I mean? Because it shows, if you do what you’re supposed to off the court, it helps you on the court.
TMD: I know you played with Caris, but did you also play with Ibi?
JT: Ibi played with my brother. When I graduated he came to Pick Central, but I’m still really good friends with Ibi.
TMD: Off the top of your head, is there anything you got to see in him that impressed you?
JT: His shooting. He’s a great shooter, he’s athletic and I feel like he can have a great impact for Michigan. There’s been countless times I’ve went back to Pick Central and played against him, and he’s one of the better guys that I’ve played against in his class.