As Michigan coach Tommy Amaker shared his sentiments on tonight”s game against No. 20 Ohio State, he seemed to be as excited about his team”s trip to Columbus as he would be to get a root canal.
“I think they”re a solid all-around basketball team, a team that is playing as well as any team in the nation and a team that”s very difficult to beat on their home court,” Amaker said.
“Having said all that maybe we shouldn”t show up,” he added with a smile. “But we”ll give it a shot.”
After taking a look at the Buckeyes, maybe they shouldn”t.
Unranked and underestimated in the preseason after returning four starters to a team that finished third in the Big Ten a year ago, the Buckeyes are coming off an emotional victory over No. 24 Indiana last Saturday. It was their eighth win in a row, and their 12th straight in the Big Ten.
Jumping out to their best start in league play since Jimmy Jackson starred at guard in 1990, Ohio State (5-0 Big Ten, 14-2 overall) is the only undefeated team in conference play.
The Buckeyes are also 13-1 this season at home. Given that Michigan has recorded just two road victories in the past 369 days. Amaker knows his team must play a near-perfect game to hang with the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes suffered a major blow before the season, losing two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Ken Johnson to graduation. The Detroit native blocked more shots (444) than anyone else in conference history and was a big reason that in each of the past three seasons, Ohio State has won at least 20 games, played in the NCAA Tournament three times and finished no worse than third in the conference his last three seasons.
Even without Johnson, Amaker said the Buckeyes “don”t beat themselves” and have a “very underrated” post presence, which could cause the depth-stricken Wolverines a lot of problems.
One big reason for the Buckeyes” emerging post presence is the surprising play of 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward Terrence Dials. The freshman nearly redshirted after a nagging knee injury caused him to barely make it through practices at the beginning of the season, but Dials persevered and now leads the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (81 percent). He is also grabbing more rebounds per minute than anyone in the conference except Iowa”s Reggie Evans. Dials has shown the ability to score as well, notching nearly a double-double in his past two games by finishing with 10 points and eight boards in each.
His five consecutive baskets, two offensive rebounds, one blocked shot and one steal in the closing minutes were instrumental in the Buckeyes” latest win over Indiana.
“He”s a freshman, and I think sometimes he doesn”t really know what he”s doing out there and sometimes he seems a little lost,” said Ohio State assistant coach Paul Biancardi. “But his productivity has been tremendous at an early stage.”
Michigan”s backcourt will need to be instrumental if the Wolverines are to have any chance in Columbus, as it will have to not only put up offensive numbers but also contain Ohio State senior co-captain Brian Brown. Biancardi labeled Brown “Mr. Consistency,” and the guard lived up to his name last week, averaging 20 points in two key Big Ten wins including a career-high 26 points while shooting a scorching 77 percent from the floor in the win over Indiana.
Amaker also said that among Ohio State”s many strengths, the Buckeyes dribble-drive better than any other team in the league, which should be a big test for Michigan”s aggressive man-to-man defense.
“They”re not flashy, don”t have any so-called superstars,” Amaker said. “But they”re as solid as any team we”ve seen and we”ve got our work cut out for us.”