INDIANAPOLIS — Not since November during the Maui Invitational has the No. 10 Michigan basketball team had to bounce back after a game to play the next day.
Things didn’t go so well that time, as the Wolverines fell to then-No. 6 Duke in the semifinals of the tournament in paradise.
So Michigan will get another chance at it, and again, the game will be against an elite opponent. No. 7 Ohio State took down Purdue in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday night and draws Michigan in the semifinal on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s definitely a big adjustment,” said freshman point guard Trey Burke about the short rest. “We know that we can do it. I think the adrenaline really is going to be the thing that’s going to push us over the edge.”
The third-seeded Buckeyes took the first match-up in January in Columbus, 64-49, but No. 2-seed Michigan came back on Feb. 18 to down its rival at home, 56-51.
We break down how the Wolverines match up to the Buckeyes this time around.
Point Guard: Trey Burke vs. Aaron Craft
Though Burke became the star of Michigan’s February win over Ohio State, it wasn’t because he dominated Craft offensively.
Burke was able to get the ball in transition and avoided going toe-to-toe with Craft in the half-court, where he defends so brilliantly. When Burke did have to take on Craft in Michigan’s normal offensive sets, the Wolverines had to go deep into the shot clock and often had to settle for long jump shots.
Still, Craft is limited offensively and Burke’s potential to influence the game, even when he’s not scoring in bulk, is too great. Burke dropped a career-high 30 points on Minnesota on Friday night in Indianapolis.
Shooting Guard: Stu Douglass vs. William Buford
On Friday, Douglass was absent for the first 40 minutes as Michigan fell behind and tied it late without much contribution from the senior. But he scored five points in overtime and helped the Wolverines dominate the extra frame to take the game, 73-69.
Though Douglass’s biggest contributions come on the defensive end, Buford may prove too dynamic for Douglass to keep him in check.
Buford was held to six points on 3-for-12 shooting in Ann Arbor this year, but don’t expect a repeat of that performance. His athleticism, quickness and ability to create shots for himself will be tough for Michigan to negotiate.
Wing Guard: Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Lenzelle Smith Jr.
The battle of the second-generation players looks to swing toward Hardaway Jr., who’s playing the best basketball of his season. The sophomore’s renewed confidence has allowed his shooting stroke to come back and he is no longer hurting the Wolverines with forced shots early in the shot clock.
Hardaway Jr. is playing within the offense, and without his torrid start to the second half against the Golden Gophers on Friday — he scored nine-straight points at the start of the period — Michigan would be long gone from the tournament.
Smith torched the Wolverines in the teams’ first match-up by attacking the weak-side glass, grabbing 12 boards and converting many of them into 17 points. But his play is inconsistent and his game in January seemed to be the result of circumstantial rebounds that happened to fly his way.
Edge: Hardaway Jr.
Wing Forward: Zack Novak vs. Deshaun Thomas
Take this match-up with a grain of salt, because it won’t likely be Novak and Thomas duking it out against each other. Constant switching, substitutions and double-teams will have Thomas getting a number of looks from Michigan.
But Thomas’ inside-outside game is a particular mismatch for Michigan and that reared its head in the teams’ February contest. He scored 25 points and pulled down 13 rebounds and was the Buckeyes’ rock in the second half.
The Wolverines’ big men are too slow to match up with him on the perimeter, the guards are too short to contest his shots on the perimeter, and neither can provide much in the post without double teams.
Novak’s shot has been off recently, and he, too, was held scoreless for much of Friday’s victory. He’ll still get his gritty garbage points and knock down a few mid-range jumpers, but it’s impossible to tell when he’ll have a significant impact offensively.
Center: Jordan Morgan vs. Jared Sullinger
Sullinger was limited by Michigan in January’s game and Morgan stood up to the star sophomore in February’s contest, but it’s not too reasonable to use those games to conclude that the Wolverines will be able to hold Sullinger in check Saturday.
Despite Michigan’s best efforts, Sullinger can still take over a game and, unlike his counterpart, he can knock down his free throws to negate any hacking strategy.
It will be difficult for the Wolverines to stay out of foul trouble, and a team effort from Smotrycz, and possibly Colton Christian and Blake McLimans, may be necessary for Michigan to eat up minutes.
Double teams frustrated Sullinger in the post last game and you can bet that Ohio State coach Thad Matta has something cooked up to counter that strategy.
At best, Morgan can be effective in transition, and can contain Sullinger’s effectiveness. But even then, it’s clear that Sullinger has the edge.
It’s during games that Michigan is susceptible to foul trouble that the bench becomes crucial. That should be the case Saturday, as the Buckeyes size will be hard to manage without fouling.
What matters isn’t whether the Wolverines’ bench can stack up with Ohio State, but rather, how it can limit the damage when their best players aren’t on the court.
The Michigan reserves are a factor when junior Matt Vogrich is hitting his 3-pointers and when Smotrycz can provide bunches of effective minutes, while not becoming a black hole on offense.
Matta rarely defers to his bench, and it was an anomaly that he had to play his reserves due to foul trouble in February. Much of that had to do with the Buckeyes being called for five offensive charges — calls that won’t likely all go Michigan’s way this time around.
From an NCAA Tournament vantage point, neither team has too much at stake. With a Big Ten Tournament championship, both teams could move up a seed from the projections — Michigan to a No. 2 and Ohio State to a No. 1 — but neither team would consider this game a must-win.
With that equal, it’s Ohio State with the sour taste in its mouth after losing the most recent contest and that could make the difference.
Edge: Ohio State
Prediction Ohio State 71, Michigan 64