(3) Michigan vs. (10) Ohio State; 9pm, ESPN
On last week's episode...
Michigan asked, "what would it be like if we went down 21 points in the first half, you know, for the hell of it?"
It almost worked, or at least it almost turned into a scratch out last second win, and not a bitter defeat at the end. Michigan went down early against OSU because of good pressure defense by Aaron Craft, and a sudden inability by everyone in a Michigan uniform to do anything but turn the ball over for the first ten minutes of the game. By halftime, Michigan had cut the deficit to around ten points, but even a strong second half wasn't enough to overcome the big Buckeye lead. Every Michigan run would fall a couple points short and be answered by a bucket or two from OSU to keep things a few points out of reach. Michigan would be as close as two points with under two minutes left, but the Wolverines ultimately didn't have enough in the tank.
The main story of the game was Michigan's shooting woes. Ohio State's strong pressure defense around the perimeter cut into Michigan's ability to get clean drives to the basket, and the Wolverines became too reliant on long twos and threes -- neither of which fell with any consistency. Michigan also fixed its turnover woes but failed to force Ohio State into many mistakes.
It is still all Deshaun Thomas; at least on offense. The junior swingman is taking almost one third of available shots, and hitting them with a fairly consistent hand (eFG% 54.2). Despite being the far and away best offensive option, and an athletic wing to boot, Thomas doesn't get to the foul line much (just 3.9 fouls drawn per 40 minutes).
The other star on the team is Aaron Craft, he of the mind numbingly effective perimeter defense and uncanny ability to throw Trey Burke into a tailspin. Craft isn't much of an offensive force -- more of a steadily effective third-ish option -- but with Lenzelle Smith and Sam Thompson also on the court, Craft normally doesn't have to worry about taking anything more than the defense gives him.
What to watch for
Michigan finding a way to exert its offensive will against the athletic Ohio State perimeter defense. The Buckeyes are going to try to throw Burke off his game with heavy pressure from Craft and plenty of help defense on screens and drives. If Burke is able to deal with being the focus of the defense, it will present passing opportunities and open shots for other Michigan players.
The biggest worry is that Michigan struggles early in similar fashion to what happened last time these teams met, and that Ohio State can use early defensive success to set up opportunities in transition that will help build an early lead that can act as a cushion against the inevitable Michigan run. Ohio State is hardly an offensive juggernaut -- as evidenced by the way the Buckeye offense almost blew its lead the last time these two teams played -- so it will come down to Ohio State's defense to create easy scoring opportunities.
Michigan's keys to win
Don't turn the ball over. Look at me, I'm a broken record. Just like every other game, turnovers are a big factor. However, in this game specifically, Michigan has to hold on to the ball. The Wolverines aren't ever going to force a huge number of turnovers, and against Ohio State last time Michigan had as many turnovers at one point in the game as it had points (eight). Michigan's offense doesn't have to be deadly efficient to win this, but it can't give Ohio State a lot of free baskets.
Rise, Stauskas. The first time these two teams met, Stauskas might as well have not even made to the the game. His presence was hardly felt. The same thing happened for long stretches against Indiana. This is his first marquee game at home, and it will be as good an opportunity as any to turn around some of the struggles of the past few big games.
Kenpom has it as an eight point Michigan win. Logically, I see that being the case, but even if the final margin ends up being that large, this game will certainly feel closer. They always do against this team.