BTT Semifinals: Michigan vs. Ohio State Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: No. 13 Michigan (24-8, 13-5 B10) vs. No. 7 Ohio State (26-6, 13-4 B10) athletic-logo[1]
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis, IN)
When: 4:05 p.m. ET, Saturday, March 10th, 2012
TV: CBS Sports /
Radio: MGoBlue, 950AM, 102.9 FM, Sirius/XM 91
More: Big Ten Tournament Preview, Bracket, Minnesota Post Game

Ohio State has gotten the best of Michigan in recent years. The Wolverines haven’t beaten the Buckeyes outside of Ann Arbor since 2003 and Thad Matta’s team has ended Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament hopes for the past two seasons, either in heartbreaking fashion or with disheartening efficiency. Before Michigan’s February win over Ohio State, the Buckeyes had won eight of their last nine against Michigan and have dominated the series. However, Michigan won the last meeting and a share of the Big Ten championship with it and will be looking to win the season series against their co-Champions.

Michigan 56, Ohio State 51- 25
Photo: Dustin Johnston

Common perception is that this Ohio State team doesn’t have the mettle of last year’s squad. The Buckeyes dropped six regular season games this year, three times last year’s total, but that has a lot more to do with the lack of perimeter shooters and a tough Big Ten conference more than a lack of mental toughness, Jared Sullinger’s regression or anything else. The Buckeyes are still a pretty good team in their own right and look like one of the nation’s best when in the midst a dominating stretch like the final seven minutes on Friday night against Purdue that saw a three point lead baloon into a 17 point victory.

Ohio State is the best defensive team in the nation according to the Ken Pomeroy’s defensive ratings and fouls less than any other Big Ten team while leading the conference in defensive rebounding. Make your tough field goal attempts against the Buckeyes because you aren’t going to the free throw line and you aren’t getting second chances.

Ohio State’s offense ranks third in the Big Ten and its most impressive dimension is on the offensive glass. The Buckeyes – not Michigan State – rank first in the league in offensive rebounding. That offensive rebounding prowess cost Michigan the game in Columbus but the Wolverines improved on the glass in the rematch. Michigan enters this game on the heels of its second worst defensive rebounding performance of the season and need to control the defensive glass to beat the Buckeyes on a neutral (likely pro-Ohio State) floor.

Jordan Morgan did an admirable job slowing down Jared Sullinger in the last meeting between these two teams (15 points on 14 shots with three turnovers) but Sullinger is impossible to completely neutralize. He’s going to score his points, grab rebounds and there are some plays that are just impossible to stop. He enters today’s game on the heels of season high 30 point performance against Purdue and Morgan will have his hands full.

Expect the John Beilein to full the book at Sullinger yet again, knowing that surprise is his greatest weapon. Double teams from different angles, single man-on-man defense as a change of pace, 1-3-1 zone, 2-3 zone, 3-2 zone and even Michigan’s mid-possession switch zone-to-man defense that’s been experimented with in recent weeks.

Sullinger, a national player of the year candidate, demands focus but William Buford is the key. Buford is the primary perimeter scoring threat for the Buckeyes and has been woefully inconsistent for Ohio State this season – Buckeye fans undoubtedly share many emotions while watching Buford with Michigan fans who watch Tim Hardaway Jr. Buford has totaled single digit scoring totals in five Big Ten games this season and three of their five league losses (MSU, Michigan, IU) were during that stretch. Douglass will get this assignment yet again and he won the defensive battle in Ann Arbor.

6-foot-7 Deshaun Thomas has never seen a shot that he didn’t like. He’s also surprisingly efficient given his shooting volume. Despite taking over a quarter of Ohio State’s shots while he’s on the floor, Thomas makes 60% of his twos and 35% of his threes and exploded for 25 points on 13 shots in the last meeting between these teams.

Michigan 56, Ohio State 51- 11
Photo: Dustin Johnston

Playing on less than 24 hours of rest, the typical tournament intangibles apply. Neither Matta nor Beilein cares much to use their bench. Four Buckeyes played at least 36 minutes last night and four Wolverines played at least 40 with Trey Burke going the full 45 in overtime. Speaking of Burke, the extra motivation will certainly be there in his third game against his hometown school. He was up to the challenge in round two:

With a three way tie for the league championship there’s been plenty of discussion as to who deserves the crown. Michigan State players have made it clear that they feel like they gave it away while Michigan players have voiced concern over a lack of respect, reiterating that they deserve a share every bit as much as Ohio State and Michigan State. The next two days give the Wolverines, Spartans and Buckeyes the opportunity to settle the score once and for all.

Three Keys

  • Offensive fouls: Michigan drew five in Ann Arbor and will need to get the benefit of those 50-50 calls.
  • Jordan Morgan: Morgan didn’t do a whole lot last night but will need to bring his A+ game to provide some timely offense and slow Jared Sullinger.
  • Role players: Jared Sullinger, Trey Burke, William Buford, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Deshaun Thomas are the stars but with short rest and little preparation, someone else is going to step up. Whichever team finds that unexpected production should have a major advantage.

Ken Pomeroy likes Ohio State, predicting a final score of 68-60 and giving Michigan just a 21% chance at the upset in Indianapolis. It’s March and in some twisted fashion the Wolverines likely gained as much confidence from a miraculous comeback victory over Minnesota as the Buckeyes gained from dismantling Purdue.

This & That.

Michigan is undefeated when leading at the half this season. The Wolverines are 3-8 when trailing after 20 minutes and all three victories have been in overtime (Northwestern twice, Minnesota). John Beilein is undefeated in tournament openers at Michigan (5-0 Big Ten, 2-0 NCAA) but hasn’t won a second game tournament match-up since arriving in Ann Arbor. Michigan has never faced Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament, if both teams win today their first meeting would be for a title. Today’s session is sold out but judging by yesterday’s crowds, expect a pro-Buckeye group.

  • PeteM

    This will be a tough one.  I think that last night we lost a lot of battles for rebounds on the defensive end.  I don’t expect to outrebound Ohio but if we can get more of the close ones we have a chance.

  • Mattski

    Last night OSU played like many had expected them to play all season long. I expect Michigan to play them tough because we play everyone tough. But I’m also fingering my rosary beads.


    Last night OSU was allowed to mug Purdue in a fashion that seemed like a parody of Big Ten refereeing. If the calls go both ways we can get a close win.

  • Wayman Britt

    To Beat OSU….

    1. Novak needs at least 9 points and 6 boards
    2. Stu needs at least 7 points and 4 assists
    3. Morgan only one foul in first half
    4. Smot 5 boards and at least 10 points
    5. Vogrich at least one three and 2 boards 

  • Wahoono12

    Michigan beat Michigan St in 1998 to win the first big ten title, unless we aren’t counting that.

  • Buford McBuford

    Don’t think this one ends well for the good guys.  But OSU can be really Jekyll and Hyde even within a single game, so let’s hope they Jekyll it up for the most part while UM shoots the lights out.