Michigan State for the third consecutive game, they've probably been shocked by some of Michigan's recent struggles. Entering what could very well be the toughest game Michigan plays all season in Columbus against #4 Ohio State, Michigan is 2-2 in their last four games and have only won one game on the road this year. Michigan may not be the hottest team in the country, but a big win over Purdue will go a long way toward helping them beat Ohio State.
Michigan may have lost all but one of its true road games, but that does not mean Michigan will not win the next one. The team has struggled on the road, but a lot of that has changed with the win over Purdue. So, let's throw the road record out the window for this game. In fact, in most of the team's road games, Michigan has been forced to make up early game deficits that ultimately cost them the game. For instance, in Michigan's game against Arkansas, the Wolverines started down by 20 points early in the game.
Now, in any situation this is bad, but when a team is on the road down by 20 points this almost always means a loss. If Michigan can prevent these types of early game deficits I see no reason for Michigan to have just one win on the road this year. Ohio State may be a great opponent, but it's not as if they're invincible. They will likely enter the game against Michigan with a perfect home record, but they've lost three games already this year, including games against Indiana and Illinois, which are no better than Michigan, in my opinion.
So let's break this down.
Now, Michigan has fared pretty well this season in this category by putting up 68.6 points per game, but Ohio State is one of the best in the nation, putting up 78.0 ppg. Obviously, this is a pretty significant difference. Michigan is currently making 46.1% of this shots, which isn't bad, but Ohio State is at 49.4%. This likely has a lot to do with Jared Sullinger, their All-American forward. Sullinger plays primarily interior basketball and is able to get a lot of easy looks, which are pretty high percentage shots. In fact, in every game this season that he has played more than a few minutes (due to injury) he has had at least 14 points.
This is important because it virtually guarantees Sullinger is going to get some points against Michigan, barring some crazy situation. Along with Sullinger, Ohio State's other primary offensive players are Buford and Thomas. Craft is a great guy at spreading the ball around, but Sullinger, Buford, and Thomas are the guys putting up the majority of Ohio State's points. They all have great shooting percentages and if they're left open Michigan could be in big trouble.
So, does Michigan have anything better on offense than Ohio State? Yes, of course. Michigan is a better 3 point shooting team. They make 34.2% of their shots, while Ohio State only makes 33.9%. Now, that's not a lot of difference, but Michigan has also been in a shooting slump as of late, so those stats are down a little bit from where they probably belong. The Wolverines also have better depth than Ohio State. Ohio State gets some decent minutes out of their backups, but when they're in the game they do very little. For instance, Jordan Sibert averages 13.3 minutes per game, but just 3.4 ppg, 1.6 rebounds, and virtually no assists.
Michigan's depth and three point shooting could help them have a shot at upsetting the Buckeyes, but there's no way you can pick against the Buckeye's high-powered offense.
Advantage: Ohio State
Unfortunately, the stats also seem to favor Ohio State's defense. Currently, they are allowing just 56.0 ppg, while Michigan gives up 60.9. Along with this, teams make just 39.8% of their shots against Ohio State and 31.6% from 3-point range. Michigan, on the other hand, gives up 41.9% of opponents' shots and 36.2% from 3-point range. Now, I could try to create some excuse for this difference, but in all reality Ohio State has simply played better defense than Michigan. Considering they're a top 5 team, that's not surprising.
Now, that doesn't mean they have a massive advantage on defense. Michigan's 1-3-1 defense is relatively unusual and will likely play a factor in the game. I think the biggest impact Michigan's defense will play in the game is how they address Sullinger. He's one of the best players in the nation and is guaranteed to put up a fair share of points, but the question is whether the Wolverines are going to commit to stopping him, or stopping everybody else.
In my opinion, Michigan needs to let Sullinger get his share, hopefully as few as possible, but focus primarily on stopping everybody else. Burford has had some bad games, he's been held below 10 points on multiple occasions. Thomas has had some bad games and been held to less than 10 points. The only player on Ohio State's team that simply seems "unstoppable" has been Sullinger. No matter who they play, as long as Sullinger is in the game, he scores a good amount. This is why I say attempt to stop the other guys. People have already slowed them down and I think Michigan can, but if they put everyone on Sullinger it's going to be very difficult to stop them.
Overall, Michigan's defense has some good matchups against Ohio State because of their unusual look. They may not be able to stop Sullinger, but if they can slow the other guys down, there's no reason to think this won't be a close game. Ohio State's defense is still better, but I think Michigan's depth gives them a chance in this one.
Advantage: Slight Ohio State
I've been picking Michigan recently in this category, but this time the advantage belongs to Ohio State. Not only will Ohio State likely be coming off several Big Ten wins in a row, but they will also be coming off five straight wins against Michigan. Now, this stat is a little flawed because the two teams have faced off in the Big Ten tournament the last two seasons, but that's still a pretty good feat. Beating any team, whether at home, on the road, or on a neutral court five straight times is impressive.
Along with this, everyone knows about what this game will mean to the Ohio State faithful. After being embarrassed by the Wolverines on the football field and the ice, the Buckeyes will be desperate to beat Michigan in something. Obviously, the football rivalry is much bigger than basketball, but the home crowd will be roaring when Michigan rolls in to Columbus.
On a side-note, I'm interested to see how the crowd reacts to Burke, since he is from Columbus and the Buckeyes passed him up on the recruiting trail.
Advantage: Ohio State
Now, this game will likely be very close, or a decisive win for Ohio State. I know that may not sound like a real prediction, but the Buckeyes seem to play teams very close, or completely blow them out. I think with Michigan's competitive spirit and fight, especially against the Buckeyes, this will be a close game. Ohio State will clearly be the favorites and should be, but I think this will be a big chance for Michigan to really take it to the next level.
Michigan may not be a top five team, at least not yet, but they are certainly talented. If the Wolverines can get off to a quick start and shoot well from 3-point range I see no reason why they can't win. However, with Michigan's road troubles and poor shooting as of late, I'm going to have to go with the enemy from down south.
Prediction: Ohio Bobcats 72-67