We’re getting into the business end of February, so NCAA hoops is becoming serious. The jockeying for premium NCAA Tournament seeds has begun, with some sharp elbows, as is college basketball betting. Sunday afternoon presents an epic clash that, to the delight of fans coast to coast, just might be repeated a few times into early April.
Michigan at Ohio State -1½, Total 148½, Sunday, 1 pm ET
Action: Ohio State -1½
Many believe Baylor vs. Gonzaga is a foregone conclusion as the likely NCAA championship game—too many. Others might favor Virginia vs. Villanova, owners of three of the past four national crowns.
We’re taking a different tack, which is why this game is so significant, the first of a mini-series of heavyweight showdowns. Think Thrilla in Manilla and Rumble in the Jungle. These two won’t meet again in the regular season, but we envision the first rematch occurring in Indianapolis, on Sunday, March 14, in the Big Ten tournament finale.
|Michigan||+1.5 (-105)||-109||O 148.5 (+108)|
|Ohio State||-1.5 (-117)||-132||U 148.5 (-132)|
What’s more, I’ll peg the Buckeyes and Wolverines to meet for the national trophy, back in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy, on Monday, April 5. This is THE Trilogy. This first one will set the tone for some major flexing by the Big Ten Conference.
The Buckeye State Owns The Wolverine State
Recent history not only does not favor Wolverines football against its rival south of the border, but Michigan hoops has been beaten down by the Buckeyes, too.
Especially in Columbus, where Ohio State has won 13 of the past 14 games. Some of those defeats have come with a particular sting, as in 2012-13, when the Wolverines won their first 16 games before traveling to central Ohio and losing, 56-53.
Twice during our frame of reference, the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines twice in the regular season and then capped the maize-and-blue misery with another defeat in the conference tournament. Two bitter trifectas for Michigan.
In those previous 14 games inside Value City Arena, Michigan hit 70 points only in its sole victory, 70-60, in 2013-14. Those other 13 meetings, all defeats, were by an average margin of 69-56.
Ohio State is tougher. There, we said it. At home Thursday night, the Wolverines cradled a comfortable advantage before wilting in the final minutes and didn’t end up covering against Rutgers.
That let-down raises a flag. The élite squads cover. The Wolverines are rated third in the latest NET rankings, 5-1 against Quad 1 foes. The Buckeyes are sixth, 9-3 versus Quad 1 opponents. Ohio State has twice as much exposure battling the toughest teams, which will help it shine, yet again, on its own floor against its most bitter rival.
Defending Their Court
Last season, Ohio State won, 77-63, at Value Center. The Buckeyes established themselves in the final 10 minutes, 28-17. Duane Washington Jr. (20 points) and CJ Walker (15 points, seven assists to a single turnover) were exceptional.
A junior guard, Washington averages 14.9 points, and nearly three rebounds and assists. Senior guard Walker (8.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg) gives out 4.3 assists a game and owns a sterling assists-to-turnovers ratio of better than 2-to-1.
EJ Liddell (15.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg), a 6-7, 240-pound sophomore, will confuse Michigan with his superb inside-outside flexibility. Junior 6-7 swingman Justice Sueing (10.5 ppg, 5.8, rpg), a Honolulu native, and power forward Kyle Young (8.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg), a 6-8 senior from Canton, Ohio, round out the Buckeyes’ formidable attack.
In a game forecasted to be tight, free throws will be imperative. Ohio State (77.4%) is 24th in the land, Michigan (76.5%) 33rd. But in their past three, the Buckeyes have been on the mark, at 85%, the Wolverines have shot 76.8% at the stripe. Another check for the home team.
Seeking Double-Digit Scorers
Should sophomore forward Franz Wagner, senior guard Mike Smith, freshman center Hunter Dickinson and senior swingman Isaiah Livers get on the same page and all tally double-digit points against an opponent, that foe is in trouble.
That has happened four times, all comfortable triumphs—77-54 against Wisconsin, 85-66 against Northwestern, 80-69 at Nebraska and 84-65 against Ball State—for the Wolverines. Don’t expect that to occur in Columbus.
Wagner and Livers combined to score 24 points last season at Value Center, hitting 6 of 16 shots beyond the perimeter; the rest of the no-show Wolverines were 1-for-10 from long range. All five Buckeyes starters scored in double figures in their victory.
House of Horrors
This is a rough spot for the Wolverines, who played for 37 minutes against Rutgers. Michigan might have been hindered by Livers’s first single-digit scoring output in eight games against the Scarlet Knights. The Wolverines now head to their haunted house.
Plus, the teams are drifting in different directions. Michigan’s effective field-goal percentage in its past three games is 0.491, more than 70 points below its season average, and Ohio State is at a top-20 0.582.
The Buckeyes being favored by such a slim margin is a gift.