Game 27: Michigan at Ohio State Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Michigan (19-7, 9-4 B1G) at Ohio State (16-10, 8-5 B1G)  2000px-2013_Ohio_State_Buckeyes_logo.svg[1]
Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, OH
When: 7:00 p.m., February 16th, 2016
Radio: 950 AM, 102.9 FM

Michigan heads to Value City Arena tonight, a venue where it has won just once in the last 11 games, to face an Ohio State team that has been treading water throughout the Big Ten season.

The Buckeyes have recovered from their 4-5 start this season, winning 12 of their last 17 games, but the wins have been predominantly padded by a weak conference schedule.

A common thread among Michigan fans and pundits is that the Wolverines have beaten who they are supposed to beat, but haven’t often gone above and beyond to secure quality wins. Ohio State’s conference performance is an embodiment of that tendency, taken to the next level. The Buckeyes have eight conference wins and all eight are against teams in the bottom five places of the Big Ten standings.

osu resume - black

The Buckeyes

The Ohio State offense is scoring 1.02 points per possession in Big Ten play, and only ranks better than ninth in one statistic: free throw rate. The Buckeyes are shooting 35 free throws per 100 field goal attempts, fifth best in the league, but they shoot just 65.9% at the stripe — the second worst free throw percentage in the Big Ten.

Ohio State is a poor shooting team all around, shooting just 47.1% on twos (12th), 34.9% on threes (8th) for a 48.7 eFG% (9th). Despite a tall roster, the Buckeyes are also below-average on the offensive glass — rebounding 28.8% of their misses. Replacing a senior guard and a lottery pick with a pair of freshman point guards, it’s no surprise that the Buckeyes have also had turnover issues, giving the ball away on 17.2% of their offensive possessions.

The Ohio State defense has allowed 1.01 points per trip, 7th best in the conference, and is built upon a strong interior defense. Big Ten opponents are shooting 45.6% on twos (4th) and 32.9% on threes (4th) for a 47.1 eFG% (4th). The Buckeyes block the second most shots in the Big Ten with a 13.5% block rate, trailing only Maryland in that statistic.

Not much else stands out about a defense that is ranked 10th in forced turnover rate, 6th in defensive rebounding rate and 8th in free throw rate allowed.


Jae’Sean Tate leads the Buckeyes in scoring at 11.2 points per game in league game. Tate is a power forward in a wing player’s body, but he has the motor to make up for his 6-foot-4, 225 pound frame. Tate is a plus offensive rebounder and defender, but his two-point shooting numbers are way down (54% from 68%) given his weaker supporting cast. He’s hit 5-of-13 threes, but rarely attempts the long range shot.

Tate is joined on the wings by a pair of versatile 6-foot-7 scorers in Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop.  Loving is shooting just 40% on twos and 31% on threes with close to a 50-50 split while his effective field goal percentage has dropped to 43% from last year’s 49% in conference play. Loving also appears to be much more effective from the right side of the floor.


While Loving has regressed, Bates-Diop has progressed. A bit player last year, Bates-Diop is shooting 51% on twos and 34% on threes while playing significant minutes.


In the low post, the Buckeyes have two of the conference’s better shot blocking threats in Virginia Tech transfer Trevor Thompson and freshman Daniel Giddens. Thompson is the far better offensive player, making 52% of his twos compared to Giddens’ 41%. Thompson also ranks third in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding rate.

Sophomore guard Kam Williams comes off the bench as Ohio State’s primary three-point shooting threat. Williams is shooting 54% from three-point range in Big Ten play, best in the conference, and is coming off of a 5-of-8 performance against Rutgers. As previously pointed out in the power rankings, Williams loves to shoot above the break rather than in the corners.


Point guard play has been an enigma for Thad Matta, who has rotated 5-foot-9 freshman AJ Harris and 6-foot-5 freshman Jaquan Lyle in and out of the starting lineup.

Lyle is a high-usage guard who can be up and down. He shoots 51% on two, gets to the free throw line, and has the fourth best assist rate in the conference, but he turns the ball over on a fifth of his possessions. He’s a lackluster three-point shooter (10-of-44 in Big Ten play) and he’s been inconsistent. Lyle has scored in single digits in 6 of the last 8 games, but also went for 27 points earlier this month at Wisconsin.

Harris is a diminutive but quick guard, who has also been fairly turnover prone. His poor two-point shooting (35%) is expected given his size, but he also shoots 33% on threes.


  • Contain JaQuan Lyle: Lyle is the sort of player that has given Michigan problems this season. A big downhill driver that can get to the free throw line and get in the paint. He’ll probably be a natural matchup for Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who will have his hands full all night.
  • Hit threes: The threes haven’t been there for Michigan much over the past few weeks, shooting 30% or worse from long range in four of the last five outings, but to score on the road against a stingy interior defense the Wolverines will need to hit from long range.
  • Push the tempo: Ohio State grades out in just the 29th percentile nationally in transition defense, according to Synergy Sports. Michigan has been lethally efficient when it can run, so picking its spots to push the pace against the Buckeye defense could be a boost against an otherwise stingy half court defense.
  • Pick-and-roll game: Year in and year out, Thad Matta is one of the best ball screen defensive coaches in the country. This year is no exception despite a young backcourt. The Buckeyes grade out in the 89th percentile nationally in pick-and-roll defense and do a great job defending both the ball handler and the roll man. Michigan’s offense has lacked a punch when the pick-and-roll game isn’t clicking, so Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton’s ability to find Mark Donnal rolling to the hoop will be critical.

Bottom Line

Columbus hasn’t been friendly to Michigan and the retirement of Evan Turner’s jersey will only add to the bad vibes, but on-paper this is a road win that feels at least attainable. KenPom projects a 71-69 Buckeye win, but gives the Wolverines a 43% chance at the road upset.

  • Chezaroo

    Nice preview Dylan. Who really knows what to expect tonight? Columbus is a house of horrors for us lately, but it appears we may be on the upswing. Interested to see how we respond to our newly found toughness and rebounding prowess. Hope we build on it.

  • Foul_Trouble

    I really like your resume graphic.

  • gobluemd16

    Fifth key: contain the shooter. Michigan has been especially poor holding down and bothering the other team’s best shooter. Namely, Bryn Forbes and Ryan Cline got way too many easy looks in their games against us. It should be a focus to bother Kam Williams on the catch; we can’t let him get going. Meanwhile, we can hardly get looks against the upper echelon teams for Duncan.

    • Jake

      I agree, Robinson is the x factor on this team. Get him going and it opens up our whole offense

  • Corperryale

    I know Matta seems to prefer Lyle but AJ Harris is ultra-speedy — Kentucky’s fast guards had trouble staying in front of him and Walton has had trouble locking down faster PGs. Can’t let him get out in transition. And don’t let Loving get hot from outside — need to exploit his Amir-like softness and inconsistency.

    And continue the trend towards toughness: grab a few boards and don’t let the bigs have their way.

    BTW, that photo really captures the essence of Matta. Good job.

  • Carl

    I hope we have Dakich tonight.

  • rlcBlue

    This is a game that cries out for switching defenses – I hope our execution is good enough to make the strategy succeed. Several times this season the Bucknuts have been on the brink of losing to one of the lower tier B1G teams only to have Matta call a few timeouts and teach his team how to play basketball. I don’t think they’ll react well if we come out of the huddle in a defense that doesn’t match the one they just had explained to them.

    When Williams isn’t in the game, the 1-3-1 could trigger some nice runs – the inexperienced point guards turning the ball over and providing us with transition opportunities.

    • Ugh I worry about the 1-3-1- because Thad has done a great job of picking it apart (with his better teams)… The 2-3 has looked better to me at times, especially against teams without a lot of shooters.

      • Carl

        Agreed.. The 2-3 has looked way better than the 1-3-1 this season.

      • rlcBlue

        I agree that Matta knows how to attack the 1-3-1, but I question whether his players do. That’s why switching up defenses should be effective. By no means should they stick with the 1-3-1 after OSU has taken a timeout to set up the offense for it.

    • gobluemd16

      I was thinking we may see some switching defenses and zones as well tonight. I feel like our zones often lead to open threes for the opponent, but it may be worth the risk — OSU does not have many knock-down shooters and is turnover-prone.

      • Carl

        Loving can be lethal.

        • rlcBlue

          That’s what condoms are for.

  • section13row15

    Did Evan Turner ever lose to UM during his career? I will still never forget the feeling of when he knocked down that half court shot to beat us in the Big Ten tourney. Michigan had a terrible year but made a great comeback in that game to go ahead in the final seconds. OSU was the best team in the conference that year and had we won that game, I still feel that we would have won the tourney and gotten the automatic bid. I hope we can bring our “A” game tonight.

    • rlcBlue

      OSU was 5-2 vs Michigan during Turner’s career: 1-2 in Ann Arbor, 3-0 in Columbus, and that game in the Big Ten Tournament.

      The Wolverines’ 10 point win in Turner’s freshman year was by far the best victory of John Beilein’s first season at Michigan. The 9 point win two years later (with Turner sidelined by injury, as I recall) was also the best win of the season, but at the time it seemed like a sign that the team was going to turn the season around after a 6-6 start had obliterated the preseason optimism. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

  • gobluemd16

    The more I look at our schedule and bracketologists predictions, the more I think we need to win this game. I am not confident in beating MD or Wisconsin on the road and Iowa is probably the best team in the conference. If we were to only beat NWestern the rest of the season, I think we would be squarely on the bubble and need to perform very well in the B1G tourney. Hoping for a strong showing after only a two-day prep in what should be a raucous road environment.