The Michigan Wolverines (16-13) travel to Columbus to face No. 23 Ohio State (19-9) in the regular season finale with Big Ten Tournament seeding finalizing. The Buckeyes are currently No. 5 in the Big Ten standings (12-7) and Michigan is two games behind at No. 7 (10-9)
A reminder for tournament seeding:
Tie breakers and tournament positioning are determined by: 1) Results of head-to-head competition, 2) Each team’s record vs. the team occupying the top position in the final regular-season standings, 3) Win-loss percentage of all Division I opponents, and 4) A coin flip.
The Wolverines enter this contest having alternated wins and losses over their last eight games. Michigan has lived on the bubble the last month of the season and despite key victories against Purdue, Iowa, Rutgers and Michigan State, a win against the Buckeyes would go a long way in solidifying Michigan’s participation in the NCAA Tournament.
Even without the postseason seemingly hanging in the balance for the Wolverines, it’s Ohio State. This game always matters in any sport, and Michigan needs this one after falling in Ann Arbor, 68-57, back in February.
In the first meeting, Michigan struggled from beyond the arc (23.5%) and were unable to contain Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell who finished with 28 points and was a perfect 11-for-11 from the charity stripe.
Liddell has averaged 23 points and seven rebounds over the last three contests against the Wolverines. His versatile range and ability to draw contact has given Michigan center Hunter Dickinson problems, so expect freshman Moussa Diabate to take several turns at guarding Liddell in relief.
Aside from Liddell, Michigan must key in on sharp-shooting guard Malaki Branham, who is shooting 44.4% from three-point range this season. While he was quiet in their first meeting, Branham is hot coming off a 22-point outburst in a victory against Michigan State on Thursday.
Offensively, Michigan must be respectable and multiple from three-point territory. It cannot just be Eli Brooks bailing the team out on the road. Caleb Houstan, DeVante’ Jones and the key bench trio (Terrance Williams, Kobe Bufkin, Frankie Collins), have to shoot at least 35% from deep if Michigan is going to have a chance in Columbus.
With just a respectable shooting clip, the floor opens up, Dickinson can go to work, and the chances of Liddell getting into foul trouble increase as well. Furthermore, Michigan must clean up the turnovers. In the second half alone against Iowa, the Wolverines committed 10 turnovers and their comeback attempt was ultimately thwarted by their own doing.
If Michigan is unable to find its rhythm from three-point land or clean up the turnovers, expect a repeat of February and enjoying sweating out the Big Ten Tournament and Selection Sunday.
Michigan Wolverines (16-12, 10-8) vs. No. 24 Iowa Hawkeyes (21-8, 11-7)
Date & Time: Sunday, March 6, 12:30 p.m.
Location: Value City Arena in Columbus, Oh.
Big Ten Standings: MICH 8th, OSU 5th