The final game of the regular season is here as the Michigan Wolverines take on the No. 24 Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus. Weeks ago, the Buckeyes came to Ann Arbor and defeated the Wolverines, 68-57.
Michigan seemed out of the tournament conversation back then but this time around, Michigan has a whole lot to play for. The Wolverines are going to have to be sharp to beat this Buckeye team that has already cemented their spot in the tournament. A win for Michigan could do the same for the Wolverines who are in desperation mode for another Quad 1 win. This game could be their last hope.
Let’s see who they’ll have to slow down to be victorious in this one.
Junior Forward E.J. Liddell
E.J. Liddell was one of the main reasons the Buckeyes came out victorious last time these two met. He scored 28 points and was 11-for-11 from the line in the win. It would be one thing if this was a one-off performance, but Liddell has been putting lines like this together all season.
The junior forward is averaging 19.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 49.7% from the floor. Those are pretty staggering numbers as is. And for his 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame, you would probably assume most of those points and the high percentage comes from the interior. That is true to a point, but when you realize he shoots 38% from deep while shooting about four shots a game from behind the arc, those stats look even better.
Forwards like Liddell who can spread the floor and bang around with bigger bodies like Michigan has in Hunter Dickinson have given the Wolverines some problems this year. Case in point, the Murray brothers accounting for 42 of Iowa’s 82 points in Thursday’s loss to the Hawkeyes. That’s because of the poor perimeter defense from Dickinson and Diabate and less than stellar post defense from Houstan. That complicates things when the four spot is the best player on an opposing team, which is surely the case for the Buckeyes.
Overcoming those issues and slowing down Liddell will play a major role in the success, or failure, of the Wolverines on Sunday.
Freshman Guard Malaki Branham
Branham didn’t have a great performance when these two teams met in early February. He scored only six points and was held quiet by Michigan’s veteran defensive guards. But that has not been the case ever since.
Branham has scored over double-digits in each of Ohio State’s last seven games. That includes four performances of 20-plus points and the 31-point performance he put on the Fighting Illini in a gutsy 86-83 win late last month.
Malaki Branham had another phenomenal showing last night - 31 points on 10-14 FG. At 6’5 180, scored on all three levels using creativity, craft, and a smooth jumper - strengthening his case as a 1&D.— Derek Murray (@DMurrayHoops) February 25, 2022
80 points on 40 shots over his last three games. Still 18 years old. pic.twitter.com/5Wfz8Ej0Ay
Over the course of these seven games, the true freshman is putting up 20.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while converting at a 57.5% clip and 45% from deep. There aren’t many players in the country who have been as efficient as him in that stretch.
Branham is playing his best basketball at the right time. If teams aren’t careful, he can score plenty of points in a hurry, and the Wolverines will have to make him a priority on the defensive end.