Ohio State vs. Michigan. That's all I really need to say.
The No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes (22-4, 10-3 Big Ten) will be taking on the No. 19 Michigan Wolverines (19-7, 9-4 Big Ten) at the Crisler Center on Saturday.
Michigan is undefeated at home this year and have won 15 games in a row dating back to last season.
Ohio State dominated their first meeting with the Wolverines, winning easily by a score of 64-49 in Columbus. Michigan did a nice job of containing Jared Sullinger, holding him to only 13 points and five rebounds. However, the Wolverines struggled mightily from the field, hitting only 36 percent of their field goals.
On Saturday, Michigan must focus on Sullinger on both ends of the court.
Offensively, they must attack the Ohio State big man at the rim. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke must use their quickness to drive to the basket. Jordan Morgan needs to assert himself down on the low block. The goal: force Sullinger to contest shots and commit fouls.
Defensively, expect John Beilein to tell his players to double Sullinger every time he touches the ball within 10-15 feet of the basket. In order for the Wolverines to have the best chance to win, they must force Ohio State to run their offense through William Buford rather than Sullinger.
Beilein will probably switch to his 1-3-1 zone defense a little more on Saturday in order to catch the Buckeyes off guard and force turnovers.
One statistic that stood out in Michigan's loss to Ohio State a few weeks ago was the rebounding differential. Chew on these numbers for a second: Ohio State had 37 rebounds to Michigan's 22, and on the offensive glass the advantage was 14 to six.
The Wolverines must make a concerted effort on the glass, a principle that every player must commit to. Lenzelle Smith Jr. (a 6'4" guard for OSU) had 12 rebounds last game, which is simply unacceptable. The Wolverines are no doubt an undersized team, but giving a team second and third possessions is a recipe for disaster.
I expect senior captain Zack Novak to have a big game for Michigan. He was held scoreless (0 for 4) from the field in their last meeting, and he certainly wants to make his last regular season game against the Buckeyes a memorable one.
Tim Hardaway Jr. looked much more comfortable against Illinois, scoring 15 points on 5 of 9 shooting. His shot selection was much better, and he appears to be emerging from his midseason slump.
Evan Smotrycz will be the X-factor on Saturday. If he can make his perimeter shots, Smotrycz will create a significant mismatch, as he will force either Deshaun Thomas or Sullinger extend outside and contest his jumper.
The excitement in Ann Arbor will be palpable, as ESPN's Gameday will be at the Crisler Center. Tune in to watch Gameday at 10am Saturday morning.
This game is monumental with regards to the Big Ten standings. With a win, the Wolverines can pull within a half-game behind the first-place Michigan State Spartans.
Tipoff will be at 9pm on ESPN.
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