It’s another Ohio-Michigan battle, but this time it’s of the non-traditional kind.
The No. 4-seeded Michigan Wolverines (24-9) haven’t played the No. 13-seeded Ohio Bobcats (27-7) since 1971, but that’s about to change when the two meet in the second round in the Midwest region of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
The Bobcats set a school record for victories and are riding high, winning 8-of-10 MAC games entering the big dance. The Wolverines meanwhile aren’t too far behind in the rugged Big Ten, going 7-3 in their last 10.
Michigan is a team that is reliant on knocking down their three-pointers while Ohio is at its best when star guard DJ Cooper is creating shots off the dribble.
This marks the first time Michigan has made the tournament in back-to-back seasons since 1996, while Ohio has made the dance for the second time in three years.
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee
When: Friday March 16 at 7:20 p.m. EST
Betting Line: Michigan -6
Key Injuries (via Covers):
Ohio- TyQuane Goard, Questionable (Academics)
Michigan-Jon Horford, Out for season (Foot)
Eso Akunne, Out for season (Foot)
What’s at Stake?
After landing a No. 8 seed and winning a tournament game last year, the Wolverines have taken the next step. Beating Ohio is a prerequisite or a once-promising season will end up being considered a disappointment. The standards have been raised in Ann Arbor.
The Bobcats are looking to be the giant-killer once again after beating No. 3 seed Georgetown in 2010. They are not a team that is just happy to be here and are battle-tested after emerging from an underrated MAC conference.
What They’re Saying:
There has already been a bit of trash talk between the two schools and somehow Ohio State is involved.
We all know that OSU-Michigan is one of the biggest rivalries in collegiate sports and Wolverines coach John Beilein calls the Buckeyes “Ohio”. Well now that they're playing the real Ohio, Beilein attempted to clear up the difference between the two in a recent radio interview on 97.1 The Ticket:
There's Ohio University and then there's just Ohio. And Ohio University is who we're playing on Friday
Naturally, Ohio U coach John Groce (a former OSU assistant) isn’t thrilled with his classification (via The Post):
It is kind of disrespectful, but it is what it is. You can’t control what other people say. You can only control what you’re doing on a daily basis.
That’s how we operate here, and I can assure you that’s how Coach (Thad) Matta operates in Columbus.
Will the Bobcats use this as extra motivation?
Most Important Player to Watch:
DJ Cooper, G
The Bobcats best player averages 14.6 points, 5.7 assists and 2.4 steals. He has averaged 19.2 in his last five as he seems to have raised his game a notch similar to the way he did two years ago when the Bobcats upset Georgetown as a No. 14 seed in ‘10.
The Wolverines have to keep Cooper on the perimeter and force him to take long-range jumpers that are contested. The task of defending him will likely be up to Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke.
Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Nick Kellogg
The Bobcats can’t let the son of a former NBA great get hot. He averages 14.6 points on 42 percent shooting and is the catalyst for making sure the offense is running smoothly.
Kellogg, also the son of an NBA alum (Clark), has to stay at home to contest all long-range shots while also ensuring he doesn’t get beat off the dribble. This isn’t going to be an easy task but it may be the deciding factor in the game.
The Bobcats are second in the nation, forcing turnovers on 26.7 percent of possessions, and they’re a top 10 team defending the three-point shot as well.
The entire Michigan offense is predicated on drilling threes and that can be a death wish in a single-elimination tournament. If the shots aren’t falling the Wolverines are in big trouble. Neither team is particularly tall, but the Bobcats led the MAC in offensive rebounding anyway. Michigan ranked 311th nationally in total rebounding.
I think the game is going to be extremely close at the half before the three-pointers stop falling for Michigan and the Bobcats begin to control the glass as the Wolverines begin to force bad shots.
The Bobcats don’t have as much pressure on their shoulders, have a stronger bench, rebound better and don’t rely on a particular brand of offense.
The Bobcats have been here before and are poised to shock the Big Blue and make them realize who the real Ohio is.
Prediction: Ohio 71, Michigan 64