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Ohio State at Michigan Preview: Not quite football

The Wolverines may be frustrating, but the Buckeyes are in straight freefall.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Any time the Michigan Wolverines meet the Ohio State Buckeyes it matters, especially given how the past two Novembers have played out. While nothing can match the football rivalry, the two basketball squad have had some big games as well, including last season’s Tournament-clincher on the final day in Columbus.

Both teams need a win on Sunday, but enter with much different vibes. For Michigan, a win at Northwestern on Thursday keeps hope alive for now, while Ohio State’s loss against Wisconsin remarkably made it eight losses in nine games to make this game fall out of Quad 1 range (thanks for nothing!).

The Wolverines are not necessarily hot themselves, but a win over their struggling rivals then a visit from Nebraska offers a good chance to build some momentum heading into the home stretch. It will still take a minor miracle to get into the Tournament, but this is another good shot for a solid win.

Ohio State Buckeyes (11-11, 3-8) at Michigan Wolverines (12-10, 6-5)

Date & Time: Sunday, Feb. 5, 1 p.m.
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
TV/Streaming: CBS
Big Ten Standings: OSU 12th, UM t-7th
DraftKings Odds: UM -2.5, O/U 145.5

Second half showcase

Oh, maybe this is a little like football. After a dreadful 20 minutes that had Michigan somehow in front, the visitors came out of the locker room on fire Thursday night, torching the Wildcats and turning another painful road game into an actual quality performance. This was the Wolverines’ best offensive showing since the first Penn State game and has some repeatable components.

While Jett Howard is the most talented player on this roster, it is going to be Kobe Bufkin who determines how far this team goes. A double-double for the sophomore was much deserved, and his pick six was a reminder of how is active hands on defense can add another layer to his game.

Postgame, Bufkin mentioned the team’s focus on offensive rebounding, which was apparent from the box score (39 percent was nearly a season high). With Hunter Dickinson contributing but not dominating, this is one way Michigan can help its offense earn extra looks when the shots refuse to go down.

The Buckeyes have been bad defensively across the board, and conceding offensive rebounds is definitely a weakness (yes I know, like Michigan). The Badgers did not clean up in this area, but their previous two opponents did, and look for this to be a focus from Juwan Howard on Sunday.

Make them drive the field

Like football, the defensive approach against Ohio State is limiting home runs. In conference play, only one team has been better behind the arc, and while Michigan has been decent in this area aside from the Penn State debacle, all priority must be given to fighting through screens and running shooters off the line.

That is because the Buckeyes are LAST in the Big Ten in two-point shooting percentage. This recent cold stretch — which is basically all of 2023 — has been mired with absolutely dreadful shooting inside the arc. Dickinson should be a big factor as always, but it will take a coordinated effort to limit Brice Sensabaugh and Zed Key, who are not the problem.

A rivalry cliche, but as important as ever when both teams have not been playing up to their potential, this game is going to come down to things like effort and mental toughness more than pure skill. Both sides have shooters and athletes who certainly can take over, but it feels like Michigan really needs to buckle down on the defensive end, not to let shooters get open, and box out on the boards. Doing that should be enough to discourage an Ohio State team that is in complete disarray.