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Stat Watch: OSU’s defense plays above its head against Michigan

Yes, Michigan is a top-5 team entering Tuesday night against the unranked Buckeyes. Watch out for their best shot.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Life has been good for John Beilein and Michigan in rivalry games.

The Wolverines sport a six-game winning streak over Indiana, including a 69-46 rout last Friday at Assembly Hall. Last year, Beilein and company swept Michigan State — both times outside of Ann Arbor.

In fact, the last time the Wolverines and Spartans played at Crisler Center, it looked like this.

However, one rival remains a scarlet and gray thorn in Michigan’s side. No, we’re not talking about football here.

Ohio State will visit Ann Arbor tonight (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2) with a 4-2 record over the Wolverines in the last four years. Granted, Michigan battled major injuries in two of those seasons (‘15 and ‘16). The Buckeyes still hold a 2-1 advantage since Michigan got back on track in ‘17.

Statistically, Ohio State has outperformed expectations — especially defensively — the last three seasons against Michigan. This spans the last two Thad Matta campaigns and Chris Holtmann’s first.

2017-18 (71-62 OSU in Columbus, 74-62 Michigan in Ann Arbor)

The Buckeyes averaged 1.14 points per possession in Holtmann’s first year, while also shooting 35 percent on threes and 54.7 percent on twos.

They just about hit those numbers in game one against the Wolverines. In the victory in Columbus, they hit 1.13 points per possession, 35.7 percent on threes and 54.8 percent on twos.

The defense shut down a top-35 national offense that day. Michigan scored .17 points less per possession. Behind the arc, the Wolverines hit just 28 percent (as opposed to their 35 percent average). On twos, the percentage dropped nearly 10 whole points.

These percentages were also below what the Buckeye defense allowed throughout the year.

Back in Ann Arbor, the script flipped in a 74-62 victory. Michigan still:

  • Scored .02 points lower per possession than its average
  • Allowed .04 points more per possession than its average

In fact, if it wasn’t for a 9-for-19 day at the charity stripe, Ohio State could’ve been within a single possession.

2016-17 (70-66 OSU in Ann Arbor)

Thad Matta’s last season in Columbus was a mess. The Buckeyes went 17-15 and bowed out of the Big Ten Tournament after a first-round loss to Rutgers.

He saved his best for his last shot at Michigan.

The Wolverine offense racked up 1.22 points per possession on the year, shot 38.5 percent on triples and 56 percent on twos. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s defense allowed over a point per possession and 46 percent on twos.


  • Mustered .2 points less per possession
  • Jacked up 35 attempts from deep
  • Shot just 37.5 percent (6-of-16) from inside the arc

The eventual Big Ten Tournament champions looked their worst against a mediocre rival that year.

2015-16 (76-66 OSU in Columbus)

Cutting to the chase, Michigan:

  • Scored .15 points less per possession
  • Hit just 20.8 percent of its triples (versus 38 percent on the year)
  • Allowed .13 points more per possession on the back of the Buckeyes draining 61 percent of its twos

Overall, Ohio State’s defense has harassed Beilein’s prolific offenses the last three seasons. In four games, Michigan tallied .135 points per possession less than its average, and frequently struggled to establish itself inside.

This year’s offense runs into Ohio State’s No. 21 overall efficiency defense. The last three outings against Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana yielded just .93 points per possession.

Michigan has blitzed good defenses this year, particularly the No. 15 defense in North Carolina and the No. 31 defense in Northwestern. If that unit shows up, this could all be pointless hand-wringing.

With Ohio State needing a big win to boost its tournament chances though, and a history of playing its best ball against its bitter rivals, the execution has to be crisper than usual tonight.