Game 24: Michigan at Ohio State Preview

Basics
Who: No. 15 Michigan (17-6, 9-2 B1G) at No. 22 Ohio State (19-5, 6-5 B1G) ohiostate_logo[1]
Where: Value City Arena (Columbus, OH)
When: 9:00 p.m., Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
TV: ESPN | WatchESPN
Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 102.9 FM, 91 Sirius/XM
More:  Notebook | Video | Pick to Click | Podcast | Big Ten Power Rankings

Timing is everything in the Big Ten.  Two weeks ago, Michigan was on top of the league after an 8-0 conference start featuring wins over  Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State. While the Wolverines sat alone at the top of the standings, Ohio State was just 3-5 and had lost five of its last six games, most recently with a home loss to Penn State.

Since then, Michigan has dropped two games – at Indiana and at Iowa – while Ohio State has reeled off three straight victories including wins on the road at Wisconsin and Iowa. The Buckeyes appear to have weathered the tough times and are looking to close the conference season out strong.

Michigan finds itself in a critical position for its Big Ten title hopes. Losers of two of the last three games, the Wolverines will host Wisconsin and Michigan State after their trip to Columbus. Michigan controls its own destiny in the Big Ten race, but the next two weeks will likely tell the story.

The Buckeyes

Ohio State brought back six of its top eight players from last year’s team, which lost to Wichita State in the Elite Eight, but the Buckeye offense has gone from 11th best in the country to 92nd. That’s primarily because Deshaun Thomas is in France, not Columbus. Thomas wasn’t just Ohio State’s most efficient offensive weapon last season, he also took nearly a third of its shots when he was on the floor.

The Buckeyes are shooting 47.7% on twos (6th) and 35.2% on threes (5th) for a 49.4% effective field goal percentage (6th) in Big Ten games. Scoring just 1.04 points per Big Ten possession (6th), the Buckeyes don’t pack much of a punch on the offensive glass (9th in offensive rebounding) and have struggled with turnovers at times (6th). The Buckeyes turned the ball over on greater than 18% of their offensive possessions in six Big Ten games and lost four of them. The one thing that Ohio State has done very well in conference play is get to the line, attempting 41 free throws per 100 field goal attempts (3rd).

Despite all of the issues on offense, Ohio State is dominant defensively. The Buckeyes are ranked fourth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and have the second best in-conference defensive numbers despite losing five games. Turnovers have fueled Ohio State’s defense in conference play. Ohio State opponents have coughed the ball up on a league-best 20.8% of their offensive possessions. The rest of OSU’s defensive numbers show some interesting flaws. The Buckeyes have the best 3-point defense in the league, 28.6% allowed, but are allowing a 51.6% 2-point shooting percentage — the second worst in the Big Ten. Ohio State has also struggled on the defensive glass, allowing conference foes to rebound 32.1% (10th) of their misses.

Personnel

6-foot-8 forward LaQuinton Ross leads the Buckeyes with 14.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. But as he goes, Ohio State’s offense tends to go. He has just a 38.7% effective field goal percentage in losses compared to 50.6% on the season.

Ross is one of the most dangerous pick-and-pop players in the Big Ten, scoring 1.12 points per possession, per Synergy. He pops on 92% of his ball screen possessions, so Michigan should know how to guard him — possibly by switching every ball screen involving Ross.

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He’s also very effective posting up (1.05 PPP, 85th percentile) as well as in simple spot up possessions. The midrange is not his specialty as he’s just 5-of-30 on jump shots inside the 3-point line, but shoots 42% from 3-point range. Forcing him to put the ball on the floor and then shoot is critical.

Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are two of the most disruptive defensive guards in the country. Scott and Craft rack up more steals than anyone in the Big Ten and are capable of completely taking opposing guards out of the game. When Fran McCaffery was asked why Devyn Marble wasn’t more involved in Iowa’s game against the Buckeyes last week, he had one answer: “They put Craft on Marble.”

But both players have also had their fair share of offensive struggles. Scott recently volunteered to come off the bench to try to jump start Ohio State’s offense, he’s averaging just 8 points per game in Big Ten play and shooting 24% on threes.

Craft runs a lot of ball screens, and is more effective finding his teammates (either rolling to the rim or spotting up on the wing) than he is scoring for himself. He passes the ball on 65% of his ball screen possessions, per Synergy, and has just a 36% eFG% when he keeps the ball in the pick-and-roll.

Lenzelle Smith Jr. is the most efficient player in the Ohio State rotation. He shoots 52% on twos and 38% on threes. The majority of Smith’s production comes off spot ups, but he’s also comfortable using dribble hand offs and screens.

Sam Thompson has moved into the starting lineup in Scott’s place. Thompson is a 6-foot-7 jumping jack with a serviceable (36%) 3-point shot. He only shoots 48% on twos despite his ridiculous athleticism, but is also an above average shot blocker.

Amir Williams and Trey McDonald are Ohio State’s traditional options at the center position, but Thad Matta won’t hesitate to play small ball with Ross at the five. Williams starts and is an imposing presence on both backboards and one of the better shot blockers in the Big Ten. He makes 61% of his 2-point attempts. A third of his offensive possessions are post ups, where he’s effective, and the rest of his production comes from drop off passes, offensive rebounds and rolls to the basket.

McDonald is a rarely used Michigan native that shoot 54% on twos but is just 9-of-28 (32%) from the free throw line this season. Marc Loving and Amedeo Della Valle both will see playing time off the bench. Loving is another versatile combo forward that’s still refining his game while Della Valle, a former Michigan target, is a 3-point shooter. Nearly two-thirds of Della Valle’s field goal attempts are from 3-point range and he’s a much better shooter from the left wing than the right.

Keys

  • Fix the defense:  Michigan’s defense has allowed .998 points per possession or more in 8 of 11 Big Ten games — that’s not good enough to win. For all of the concerns about what Ohio State’s defense will do to Nik Stauskas and Michigan’s offense, the much bigger concern is whether the Wolverines can stop an average, but improving Ohio State offense. The easy baskets that come from OSU misses or turnovers could also spark Michigan’s offense against the otherwise stellar Buckeye defense.
  • Robinson vs. Ross: LaQuinton Ross had a huge game against Michigan in Ann Arbor last season, and this match up of up-and-down stars could be critical. Other individual matchups might draw more attention, but the winner of the four spot seems like a safe bet to win the game.
  • Win on the glass: Michigan has struggled to rebound the ball in Big Ten games. The Wolverines are ranked eighth in the conference in both defensive and offensive rebounding percentage. Ohio State isn’t a great rebounding team, and Michigan will need a better effort on both ends.

Bottom Line

Under John Beilein, Michigan has won at every Big Ten venue other than Value City Arena in Columbus. Ken Pomeroy’s system gives the Wolverines a 33% chance at the upset, projecting a 65-62 Buckeye victory.

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