The last time Michigan and Ohio State met on the hardcourt, the upstart 10th-seeded Wolverines were giving the second-seeded Buckeyes a run for their money in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan had been coming on of late, and LaVell Blanchard shined in the conference tournament last year, scoring 24 points against Ohio State. But the Wolverines could not push past the 21st-ranked Buckeyes, falling 75-68.
Fast-forward to tonight and Ohio State is again facing a team that is coming on strong and is one of the hottest in the nation – having won nine games in a row.
The nine-game win streak has insulated the Wolverines against any fear they may have had about going into Columbus and has them believing in each other.
“I do not think we are going to be afraid,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “The older kids especially recognize how difficult it is to compete and win on the road in this conference.”
Ohio State also has loads of momentum coming off its 81-69 defeat of Indiana on Saturday.
After starting 2-0 in the conference season, the Wolverines will face their first conference road test. But the Wolverines are no strangers to hostile environments.
“(We had) an opportunity to win against a storied program such as UCLA,” Amaker said. “I would hope it would at least give us a point of reference that we have gone away from Crisler (Arena) and had some success against a great program. That is what we will be facing this week with the Buckeyes in Columbus.”
The Buckeyes have played with as many as three guards on the court at a time, but they could challenge the Wolverines with a larger lineup to exploit Michigan’s much-noted lack of depth and experience inside.
Whether the Buckeyes play big or small, much of their success will come from the play of senior point guard Brent Darby. In conference play, Darby is averaging 22 points a game and is Ohio State’s leading scorer.
While Darby will try to lead the Buckeyes tonight, Michigan’s star point guard and diaper dandy extraordinaire, Daniel Horton, is nursing a sore wrist. Horton is listed as probable for the game, but without him, the Wolverines find themselves with few options at the point.
As far as continuing the team’s new-found success, Amaker wants the players to play together and not try to do too much. He credits much of the team’s success to Blanchard, who for the fourth-straight season is leading the team in points with just over 17 points per game.
“We need our players to play to their capabilities,” Amaker said. “We have said it all along that if we could find a certain rhythm with our better players they could score better. I think Blanchard has been that catalyst. He has allowed everyone else to fit nicely in the roles that we have identified that are best for our ball club.”