Michigan vs. Minnesota: How Ohio State Gave Wolverines a Huge Boost in B1G Race

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Michigan vs. Minnesota: How Ohio State Gave Wolverines a Huge Boost in B1G Race
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Four days ago in Columbus, the Michigan Wolverines learned a valuable lesson from their bitter rival Ohio State.

The Wolverines went into Columbus after playing a weak nonconference schedule, which was highlighted by a win over a NC State team that was still trying to find their feet.

The Ohio State game was the first big game on the Wolverines schedule, and in the first half of that game, John Beilein's team arguably played their worst half of basketball this season. 

The Wolverines could have continued to take the beating from the Buckeyes, but instead they responded in the second half with a comeback that almost succeeded. 

However, the most important takeaway from the Ohio State game did not show up until Thursday night in Minneapolis. 

The first half against Minnesota was the opposite of the one in Columbus. The Wolverines came out of the gate hungry, and although the score was close for most of the first half, it was clear on the court who was the dominant team. 

Tim Hardaway, Jr., who scored a dubious three points in the first 20 minutes on Sunday, was the star at the Williams Arena on Thursday night with his 17 first-half points.

It was not just Hardaway Jr. who excelled against the Golden Gophers—it was the entire Wolverines team that was confident that they would win their 17th game of the season. 

While Hardaway was draining three-pointers, Trey Burke was dishing out assists, Spike Albrecht was in the paint drawing a key charge and Mitch McGary came off the bench and had one of his best halves as a Wolverine with six points and three steals. 

All of the statistics are nice to look at and to write about, but none of these statistics would be relevant had the Wolverines played a strong overall 40 minutes in Columbus on Sunday. 

No Wolverine fan would willingly admit that the loss to Ohio State helped them on Thursday and for the rest of the B1G season, but they did. 

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

By dominating the mighty maize and blue offense in the first half on Sunday, the Buckeyes showed Beilein and company everything that was wrong with their approach to the big games. 

Not only did the Wolverines' group of young players learn from their experience at the Value City Arena, but they executed their game plan to perfection and gave Minnesota no chance of coming back in the second half.

Nothing could go wrong for the Wolverines, and if they attack the first half of each of their remaining B1G games like they did on Thursday, there could be no stopping them in conference play.

All of the other teams in the B1G have shown glaring weaknesses in big games this season.

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Indiana's offense was effectively shut down against Wisconsin on Tuesday when Jordan Hulls failed to make a shot. 

Ohio State has been far from impressive in big games except for the first half of Michigan—a game that the Wolverines would have won if they played an extra two minutes.

Minnesota failed to show up in their past two games against Indiana and Michigan, two performances that has cast plenty of doubt around Tubby Smith's team. 

Wisconsin caught Indiana off guard on Tuesday, but they are sure to lose their first conference game sometime during their four straight games against ranked opponents.

Michigan State faces the same amount of difficulty in their schedule as Wisconsin does in the coming weeks, while Illinois is too inconsistent to contend for the B1G title.

With all that being said, the Wolverines have to be the clear-cut favorite to win the B1G title because of their response to their putrid first half in Columbus.

No team in B1G play this season has shown the same resilience that the Wolverines showed in their last 60 minutes on the court. 

If Michigan plays with the same perfection that they did against Minnesota for the rest of the season, the Wolverines will look back on the first half of the Ohio State game as the point in the season that helped them win the B1G title.

 

For more insight on college basketball, follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90.

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