The last time a team went undefeated and won the NCAA Division-I college basketball championship was in 1976, when the Indiana Hoosiers capped a perfect 32-0 season with a win over the Michigan men’s basketball team.
That was 35 years ago. But with tonight’s game against No. 1 Ohio State, Michigan has the opportunity to, in a way, avenge that loss from so long ago.
The Buckeyes (9-0 Big Ten, 22-0 overall) haven’t been shy about their intentions on adding a National Championship to the team’s resume by the end of the season. But for now, Ohio State coach Thad Matta is just trying to keep things as simple as possible — focusing on what his team needs to do to play better basketball.
And after the Buckeyes’ last game against Northwestern — in which Ohio State narrowly scraped by in a 58-57 win — Matta began looking at how his squad could improve against a young Michigan team that is coming off two huge wins in conference play.
While the Wolverines (3-6, 13-9) were able to take down the Spartans in East Lansing, they head into similar territory at Value City Arena — where the Buckeyes haven’t lost in almost a year.
The Wolverines split their regular season series with the Buckeyes last year, with each team winning at home. But this year, Ohio State may be more skilled than last year.
“I’ve never seen a team that shoots so well and also has such an inside presence, it’s just rare that you see that,” Michigan coach John Beilein said Monday. “Even if you can mark up on one guy and do something in the post, but when you have four shooters shooting over 40 percent (from range) in Big Ten play — the best defensive league in the country — it’s just hard.”
When the Wolverines lost to the Buckeyes, 68-64, in Ann Arbor early last month, Ohio State’s spot-on 3-point shooting was in full effect as the team shot 50 percent from behind the arc. Since starting conference play, the Buckeyes have gotten even better — three players are in the top 10 in 3-point shooting in the Big Ten.
Unlike Ohio State, which thrives from beyond the arc, Michigan has spent most of the season living or dying by the 3-point shot.
When the Wolverines are feeling it and shooting nearly 50 percent from behind the 3-point line, they have upset teams like Michigan State and made Iowa look mismatched against the young Michigan squad. But, when the Wolverines shoot around 30 percent, like they did against Minnesota and Indiana, they’ve lost games they had the potential to win.
Like Matta, Beilein is also keeping it simple for his young team — stressing the importance of his team’s ability to move on after a disappointing play or game.
“It will paralyze you,” Beilein explained. “When you’re not having a good game and you keep thinking about it.”
The game marks the Wolverines’ second cluster of the Big Ten slate — four games in nine days. Michigan competed in its first cluster in early January, starting with its matchup against then-No. 3 Kansas. The Wolverines were unable to collect a win in that tough four-game stretch.
But now, with the team knowing what to expect, the Wolverines hope to improve on their last showing in such close games — all are rematches with teams that beat Michigan earlier this season.
“I think the second time around they know a little bit more what to expect, but so do the other teams,” Beilein said. “So that will be the thing that we have to continue to pound into (the players) — that each game is separate. If you win on the road and they come to (Ann Arbor), you better be ready. And if they beat you at their place, you owe them one at your home place. You have to be ready because they are too — they’re trying to sweep you.”