Sometimes it just takes one game. Thursday’s dominance against No. 3 Purdue felt like months’ worth of frustration unleashed at once, providing a much-needed quality win while also reminding everyone — including this roster itself — of what can happens when this team plays up to its potential.
The win vaults the Michigan Wolverines up 20 spots in Kenpom (now 26th) and solidifies them squarely on the Tournament bubble. Another win on Saturday combined with a loss by Rutgers to first place Wisconsin would see the Wolverines jump up to fifth place in the Big Ten; a Michigan State loss would make that fourth place. A lot of season left, but it would have been crazy to consider this possibility a month ago after a 1-3 start in conference play.
This all depends on the rivalry tilt in Ann Arbor, however. Ohio State comes in as a top-20 team, meaning this is another tough test but another great shot at a resume booster. The Buckeyes have dropped two of their last three and have not beaten anyone good since a home win over Wisconsin two months ago, so now is the time to keep the momentum rolling.
No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes (14-6, 7-4) vs. Michigan Wolverines (13-9, 7-5)
Date & Time: Saturday, Feb. 12, 6 p.m. ET
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Big Ten Standings: OSU 5th, MICH 7th
DraftKings Sportsbook Odds: MICH -2.5, O/U 141
Thursday’s offensive outburst against Purdue was reminiscent of last year’s instant classic in Columbus, where No. 3 Michigan came out ahead 92-87 against No. 4 Ohio State. The shooting against the Boilermakers was phenomenal, especially from deep, but it was crucial to have Moussa Diabate finally come to life in the paint, slamming home multiple dunks by continuously getting in great position.
While some of this can be attributed to poor defense, the Buckeyes are not exactly elite on this end of the floor either. The visitors are below average defensively in Big Ten games and do not offer anything like the two massive Purdue bigs. The Hunter Dickinson outside threat continues to be a huge lift for the entire Michigan offense, but there should be a lot of opportunities for him in the post this weekend.
The challenge will be managing the Ohio State offense, which is only a small tick down from the Boilermakers. The top-10 unit per Kenpom is led by EJ Liddell, who is a threat from all over the floor. The junior shoots efficiently both inside and outside the arc and will have to be the focus of the defense, just like Jaden Ivey was. Managing his abilities and forcing his teammates to contribute will be vital.
Again, the path to victory will be staying hot on offense. The Buckeyes will score, but there are buckets to be had the other way. Forcing them to run their offense and settle for contested shots could be enough to make it back-to-back upsets. Michigan was much better at communicating around screens and mixing in zone on Thursday, and it will take 40 minutes of locked-in effort to earn another huge win.
Oddly, Michigan’s 12 made threes Thursday came from just three players: Caleb Houstan, Eli Brooks, and Dickinson (lol). The Wolverines torched the nets in the first half in Columbus last season and will probably get some good looks again this weekend. 57 percent shooting from deep might be unlikely, but Michigan will have to be above-average again behind the arc to win this one.
Liddell is the biggest threat, but the Wolverines cannot get lazy on defense. Ohio State takes the second-highest percentage of threes in conference and hits them at a solid clip too, so overcommitting or missing switches will be punished. This is another game that Michigan is probably ok turning into a shootout, but that cannot be because of easy baskets by the visitors.