Ohio State Basketball: 5 Keys to Getting B1G Sweep over Michigan
It has been somewhat of an up-and-down season for the Ohio State basketball team.
Despite the scoring prowess of Deshaun Thomas and the defensive tenacity of Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes are a very young squad, and that youth has caught up to them at times against ranked opponents.
Every ranked opponent, that is, except one—archrival Michigan.
Thad Matta’s bunch already knocked off the Wolverines once in Columbus, but the rematch in Ann Arbor is a much more daunting task. Read on to see the five keys for the Buckeyes if they hope to sweep Michigan and throw themselves into the heart of the Big Ten race.
Get off to Quick Start
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In the first game these two teams played, Ohio State jumped out to a 29-8 lead before Michigan even had a chance to blink.
While the contest tightened considerably down the stretch, that early spark brought energy to the crowd and gave the Buckeyes enough cushion to ultimately win at the end. If they get off to a similarly quick start Tuesday, it will sap the raucous Crisler Arena crowd and allow the young guys in scarlet and gray a chance to get comfortable.
In Michigan’s headline-grabbing game against Indiana Saturday, the Hoosiers grabbed a 20-7 lead within the first five minutes. The Wolverines came back to tie it, but, as so often happens with considerable comeback efforts, they fell short and the result was a loss because so much energy was expended just to get back into the game.
Ohio State needs to land the first punch Tuesday so it has more energy than Michigan for the final minutes of sparring.
Get to the Line
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Ohio State is on a four-game winning streak, and a big part of that run has been the free-throw line.
In the past two contests (against Nebraska and Wisconsin), the Buckeyes outshot their opponents from the stripe 40-5. That’s a rather unbelievable statistic, especially considering one game was on the road and the other came against a typically disciplined Badger squad.
One great way to win away from home is to pick up easy points from the free-throw line. It not only gradually adds to your own total (something that is crucial for a sometimes sputtering Buckeye attack), but also frustrates the crowd and can get the opponents’ key players into foul trouble.
Indiana held a 25-7 advantage in free-throw attempts against Michigan Saturday (something that opposing fans will say happens far too often in Bloomington), so the precedent of racking up free points against the Wolverines is there.
Ohio State just has to take advantage of it.
Contain 3-Point Shooters
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A critical part of Michigan’s dangerous offensive attack (which is rated tops in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offensive efficiency rankings) is its three-point shooters.
Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III are all more than capable of hitting shots from beyond the arc and will likely look to do so Tuesday in front of their home fans.
A primary reason Ohio State was able to win the first matchup against the Wolverines was the perimeter defense. Hardaway was 1-of-6 from downtown, and Stauskas—who scored a grand total of zero points—missed all three of his attempts.
As a whole Michigan was a mere 6-of-20.
If the Buckeyes can once again prevent the Wolverines’ shooters from establishing a rhythm, they can stay in the game and have a chance to win at the end.
Get Deshaun Thomas Easy Looks Early
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Deshaun Thomas is averaging exactly 20 points a game this season, good enough to put him on top of the Big Ten scoring list.
Thomas has certainly attempted significantly more shots than the rest of his teammates, but he has reached those scoring totals in a rather efficient manner (47 percent from the field, 40 percent from downtown and 82 percent from the stripe).
However, in recent games against Nebraska and Penn State, it has appeared that Thomas is forcing the issue when he is heavily guarded. He shot 6-of-18 against the Cornhuskers and 4-of-13 against the Nittany Lions and didn’t look comfortable during either contest.
He did pick the right two teams to struggle against, though, as Ohio State was still victorious in each game. That will in all likelihood not be the case against Michigan if Thomas—who is basically the Buckeyes’ first, second and third option in the halfcourt—struggles with his shot.
That is why Thad Matta needs to design some early plays to get Thomas some confidence. The more he sees the ball go through the hoop in the first half, the more ready he will be to hit the difficult shots down the stretch.
Aaron Craft vs. Trey Burke
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After four career head-to-head meetings between Aaron Craft and Trey Burke, it may seem rather obvious at this point to say a key to the game is the matchup between these two excellent point guards.
That may be the case, but the bottom line is that the winner of this individual contest has led his team to victory all four times.
Craft locked Burke up in the game in Columbus last season, but the Michigan floor general enacted some revenge in Ann Arbor. Craft then took the rubber game in the Big Ten Tournament by eviscerating Burke on the defensive end by forcing him into 1-of-11 shooting and eight turnovers.
Craft held Burke in check in the early matchup this year also, and if Ohio State wants to win on Tuesday, he will have to do so again.
There is a lot of individual pride on the line whenever these two Ohio natives square off, and it will be interesting to see if one of the nation’s best defenders can once again hold the offensively excellent Burke in check.
All that’s on the line is a victory in one of America’s most intense rivalry games.