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Ohio Beaten, Michigan Arrives on National Stage

Yesterday, I received a call at 5:30 in the morning, rolled out of my bed, jogged the mile or so from my dorm to the front steps of the Crisler Center, and received my spot as the 359th person in line for College Gameday (John Beilein carried around boxes of donuts to everyone in the line. All I could muster was a "thanks coach"). We waited outside until eight, went inside, and watched as Rece Davis, Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis, and Jay Bilas ran a pretty cool show with Denard Robinson, John Beilein, Zack Novak, and Stu Douglass. For the record, it was not quite as awesome as the Gameday for the UTL game earlier in the year. Since we got to the arena so early, my friends and I were given fast passes to sit in the bleachers, provided that we arrive at 5 PM. We were let in at 7:30, got our seats a few rows behind the Michigan bench, and witnessed the biggest Michigan win in years in front of the best crowd Crisler has seen in longer than I can remember. From the bleachers in the Crisler Center, we witnessed Michigan beat Ohio State on the biggest stage in college basketball (outside of March Madness, of course) to put itself in great position to attain at least a share of its first regular season Big Ten basketball title since 1986. The guys wearing body paint in the picture below walked around with a minute left and told the student section not to rush the floor if we won. Thankfully, no one did.


Pretty good seats, eh?

Michigan led for the entire contest, and despite some late Jared Sullinger buckets, the Buckeyes never were able to tie the game. Trey Burke secured the with two key, late buckets left; his layup over Sullinger stretched the lead to 54-49, and his bank shot high off the glass with 11.2 seconds left sealed the game. Jordan Morgan notched a double-double against an All-American and played with an unprecedented intensity for the entire game (plus his two thunderous dunks in transition looked great on the highlight reel). Zack Novak and Stu Douglass each hit a tough clutch shot late, and both played excellent defense; Novak took two charges and Douglass shut down William Buford. Tim Hardaway Jr only took two shots but scored 13 points in a surprising show of efficiency. It was the best collective performance that Michigan's put together all season: Ohio State's offensive efficiency was 88.9 -- their second-lowest of the year.

Effective FG % Turnover % Off. Rebound % Free Throw Rate
Michigan 50.0 14.0 15.4 29.8
Ohio State 41.8 22.8 36.4 30.6

As you can see, Michigan did better than Ohio State in every facet of the game except for, surprise, offensive rebounding. At this point, that issue doesn't seem like too big of a deal: Michigan's ability to get out in transition after pulling down a defensive rebound (see: Jordan Morgan's second dunk) and transition defense as a result of having people get back on defense (Ohio State didn't have any transition buckets) mitigates any losses on the boards. Obviously the rebounding will need to be reasonable -- certainly better than it was in the game in East Lansing -- but a performance like this against a talented front line is perfectly acceptable. Outside of that, Michigan did extremely well, taking care of the ball and overcoming a 3-13 performance from three to notch a good eFG %. Ohio State shot the ball extremely poorly as a team outside of Deshaun Thomas (who scored 25 points on 8-13 shooting), and turned it over more than Michigan did, including 5 offensive fouls. Speaking of Thomas, Michigan would have ran away from the Buckeyes if he didn't have a career day. Ohio State fans are complaining that Buford didn't show up and they're right, and without Thomas, the game would have gone much worse. Sullinger eventually got going and posted good numbers, but Buford, Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., and Sam Thompson didn't do much of anything on the offensive end. Credit that to Michigan's defense, who played as well as they have in a long time.

I previewed the game on Friday with a specific focus on what Michigan needed to do to win. Here's how they did:

  • Michigan really cannot afford to get killed on the glass. Fortunately, it wasn't too bad. I expected much more out of Ohio State, and Michigan did a very good job of getting the 50/50 chance rebounds. There's not much you can do when Deshaun Thomas is being boxed out by Zack Novak, but getting rebounds on the floor or ripping them out of the opponents' hands is something that Michigan needs to do to be competitive.
  • Trey's offense needs to be better than the legendary defense of Aaron Craft. "The Pride of Columbus, Ohio" did just that, scoring 17 points (6-14 shooting) and notching 5 assists to 3 turnovers. More importantly, Burke scored two buckets to protect the win after missing the front end of a one-and-one. Trey was extremely fatugued, but getting by Craft twice for two huge baskets and getting the better of him for the whole game was awesome.
  • Evan Smotrycz and/or Tim Hardaway need to break out of their slumps in a big way. Smotrycz definitely did not have a memorable game (2 points on 1-4 shooting in 18 minutes) but played decent defense against Sullinger. Hardaway, on the other hand, had a great game. He didn't force things too much wound up only missing one shot all game. Michigan had other players step up (notably Burke and Morgan), but Hardaway played a nice supporting role.
  • Contain Sullinger, but don't let him beat you by setting up opportunities for his teammates. Michigan threw a unique defense at Jared Sullinger, one that he hasn't seen very much of in his five career games against Michigan. The Wolverines didn't double onto Sullinger as often, leaving Jordan Morgan to go one-on-one against him for several possessions. This worked out pretty well for the most part, Morgan held his own and only picked up two fouls. Sullinger only had one assist.
  • Jordan Morgan needs to be there. He was. It was easily Morgan's best performance of his Michigan career. He had 11 points on 5-8 shooting and 11 rebounds (2 offensive). Not only did he provide much of Michigan's rebounding and interior post play, but he also played some of the best one-on-one defense against Sullinger that I've seen from anyone. His intensity was great and Morgan played with as much passion as I've seen him play with.
  • Michigan needs to hit threes. Not so much, I guess. Michigan only hit 3 three point attempts, and proved once again that the "Michigan lives and dies by the three" mantra is wrong. The Wolverines excelled from inside the arc and have done so all year, so three point shooting hasn't been a strong determinant of Michigan's success. I don't know why I put this as a key to winning, but I guess I didn't foresee Michigan's success against the Buckeyes' strong interior defense.

Entering Saturday, Michigan had a good chance of getting a Big Ten title, and now, they're in even better position. Michigan State is a game ahead of the Wolverines in the standings, but the Spartans travel to Indiana and play a home game against Ohio State to finish out the season. Michigan should be favored in each of its remaining contests -- @ Northwestern, Purdue, @ Illinois and @ Penn State -- and have a very good shot at winning out. If the Wolverines do so, Michigan will finish the season at 24-7 overall and 14-4 in conference, and depending on their performance in the Big Ten Tournament, could wind up with a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This was Michigan's best win of the year and it should be celebrated, but the Wolverines can build on it to do even bigger things.