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Michigan-Ohio State hoops: A battle of freshmen phenoms

They’re two of the most talked about freshmen in the Big Ten.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines bested Ohio State on the football field in 2022, and now they will get their shot on the court. While the football game was one of the most anticipated, this contest at the Crisler Center is between two teams that have struggled with consistency all season long.

Ohio State rushed to a 10-3 start and looked like it would be a force in the Big Ten. But the Buckeyes had a ROUGH month of January and sit at 3-8 in the conference, losing eight of their last nine games. In a similar fashion to the Wolverines, they just have not figured out how to close games. The Buckeyes have lost five of those nine by five points or less.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines are coming off a big win in Evanston. Northwestern has been one of the steadiest teams in the conference but has now been swept by Michigan. It was exactly the kind of performance needed after a tough loss at Penn State. If the Wolverines can rack a few wins together, they’ll be back in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament spot.

In order to do so, they’ll need to beat this struggling Buckeye team tomorrow at noon. Both team's most versatile scorer is a true freshman, and their play will help dictate the outcome of Sunday’s contest.

Brice Sensabaugh

Sensabaugh has been a walking bucket for Ohio State this season. He’s their leading scorer with 17.4 points per game on 51.3% shooting from the field. He will take his 100th three of the season against Michigan, and so far he is knocking them down at an absurd 47.5% clip.

What makes him so special is how he can score at all three levels, making him extremely difficult to guard.

At 6-foot-6, he is fairly tall for a guard. Then you tack on his 235-pound frame and you realize just how physically imposing he is driving to the rack or pulling up off the dribble. He’ll back small guards down or shoot above with little space from behind the arc. He’s one of the most dangerous scorers in the Big Ten and has been excellent lately with five 20-point performances in the last nine games.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t had much help around him, which is the main reason Ohio State has struggled. Sensabaugh is a great scorer, but he’s not the guy who is going to facilitate an offense very much, if at all. He is also pretty lazy on defense which gets him in foul trouble when teams go at him. When he is not on the court, it really slows down their offense, which helped Wisconsin beat them earlier this week.

Lots of drives from Jett Howard, Terrance Williams II and Kobe Bufkin will be key to putting Sensabaugh and the Buckeyes in a similar spot. Speaking of Howard…

Jett Howard

This matchup is fun because there will very likely be some stretches where Howard and Sensabaugh go back and forth. Howard is still dealing with the ankle issue that sidelined him in a home win over Minnesota a couple weeks ago, but he has to continue to be a major contributor for the Wolverines to do anything down the stretch.

In a similar vein to Sensabaugh, Howard can score at each level, but he is most exciting when he is knocking down jumpers in defenders' faces from deep. His overall profile as a scorer is really similar to Sensabaugh, but Howard gets a little too heat-check prone in games. A wild statistic based on how the season has gone is the Wolverines are 7-2 when Howard shoots less than 10 times, and they are 5-8 when he takes 10 or more.

In games where Howard knows he has something going, he fires up just about everything. While it’s exciting for the stretches when shots go in, it’s equally as frustrating when they don’t fall and he is still attempting ugly shots.

Still, when Howard is hot, he is one of the most exciting players to watch. He’s been on a couple phenomenal runs this season, but what will make him a better player and push this team back to NCAA Tournament relevance is if he can realize when it is time to get others involved.