INDIANAPOLIS — Playing a top-five team at any time is a daunting task.
Add in that it’s a heated rival, in the middle of a conference tournament, and it could potentially be the last game of the season — and it’s clear that tomorrow’s game between the Michigan basketball team and Ohio State isn’t ordinary.
But despite the standings, the Wolverines have fared reasonably well against their rival this season.
While the Buckeyes are the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten and the fifth-ranked team in the country, the reality is, Michigan has bested Ohio State in three of the four halves they’ve played this year.
While Big Ten Player of the Year Evan Turner was out with a back injury in the Wolverines’ 73-64 win over Ohio State on Jan. 3, Michigan did play the Buckeyes tough later in the year, losing 66-55 at Value City Arena.
“I mean, we beat them for a full game, and I think we beat them for a half then the next game,” sophomore Zack Novak said. “We’re confident going in. They’re a really good team. They’ve got a lot of talented guys. But we’re going to be ready to play, and just go out there and have fun, see what happens.”
After quickly falling behind in that second game, the Wolverines (7-11 Big Ten, 15-16 overall) stormed back behind a first-half team effort. While senior forward DeShawn Sims boosted a 14-4 run, it was threes by Novak and fellow sophomore Stu Douglass that really sparked the Wolverines, pulling Michigan to a one-point halftime lead.
Really, the only one not involved was junior guard Manny Harris, who scored just 10 points that game. But Michigan kept it close by having five players score in double figures.
While the Buckeyes found a way to shut down the Wolverines in the second half, Harris’s lack of production was the key.
And once again, the matchup will be between Michigan’s star offensive player and Ohio State guard William Buford, who was able to shut Harris down.
What should really scare the Wolverines about the Buckeyes is the improvements they made with Turner not in the lineup. With him out, they found secondary scorers in Jon Diebler, Buford and David Lighty who all average more than 12 points per game. Additionally, the Buckeyes boast the Big Ten’s second-best scoring defense, allowing just 60.4 points per game.
“The second time we played them, they’d all gotten better without (Turner),” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “And then adding him, it’s just an ‘X’ factor to really make them one of the league co-champions or tri-champions and a great chance to win the National Championship.”
To beat the Buckeyes (14-4 Big Ten, 24-7 overall) , Michigan will need Harris to be at his best against arguably the toughest defensive matchup he will face all year in Buford. While it’s a given that the Wolverines don’t stand much of a chance without a third or fourth scorer — like they haven’t all season — against Ohio State, it requires something extra.
The Wolverines know their season will end with a loss tomorrow against the Buckeyes, and the message the last few days has been to put it all on the line. With Ohio State looking for a possible one seed in the NCAA Tournament, both teams have something to play for.
“We just have to go and it’s all or nothing, and try to win it,” Sims said.