Heading into Tuesday's matchup between Michigan and Ohio State, we took a few moments to chat with Steve Helwagen from Bucknuts (247Sports site dedicated to the Ohio State Buckeyes). Topics including things such as the progression of the Buckeyes' team and schedule, the matchup between Aaron Craft and Trey Burke, what this game means for both Michigan and Ohio State, and some game predictions. You can follow Steve on Twitter here and read his comments regarding the game below:
Thad's had success against Michigan thus far in his career. We don't think it continues tonight.
Wolverine247: Tuesday marks the second game played between Michigan and Ohio State this season. However, a lot has changed since the first matchup between these two teams. For fans who haven’t followed OSU that closely since the first game, what has happened with the Buckeyes since Michigan vs. OSU in Columbus?
Steve Helwagen (Bucknuts): Ohio State has played 4 straight unranked teams after beating Michigan by 3 and losing by 3 at Michigan State. Deshaun Thomas has continued his torrid pace and had a 25-point game against Wisconsin and Aaron Craft is starting to score more as well as he has come out of his shooting slump.
Wolverine247: Similar to the previous question, what has changed for the Buckeyes? Has anything changed with the starters or bench and have any players “broken out” since the first meeting with the Wolverines?
Steve: Thad Matta is using LaQuinton Ross more on the wing. He steps in for Sam Thompson and brings a three-point and scoring threat. Amir Williams also just played one of his best games with 7 points, 8 rebs, 3 blocks and 2 steals in 28 mins vs. Nebraska
Wolverine247: Of course, this game is not “do or die” for either team (both teams are 2nd in the Big Ten standings), but what does this game mean for the Buckeyes? Michigan will be looking to avenge the first meeting, but what would a win or loss mean to Ohio State?
Steve: This is the biggest week of the season for OSU with No. 3 Michigan on the road and home with No. 1 Indiana on Sunday. Conventional wisdom is a split keeps OSU in the Big Ten race. A sweep would put the Buckeyes in first place in the conference. These are the kind of teams OSU must play well against if the Buckeyes are to make any noise in the conference tourney or NCAA, so it’s important to be competitive at the very least.
Wolverine247: Now, moving on to specifics for the game. The big story in the first game was Michigan’s slow start to open the game. If you had to make one prediction, what do you think will be the big story from this game?
Steve: How Michigan came out strong. UM’s 2 losses had the same terrible start. OSU has not started well on the road in losses at Illinois and MSU. I can see that happening again if they aren’t ready to roll. UM’s shirts say “We On.” They really do need to be on at the start of this one and get a double-digit lead quickly to plant that seed of doubt in the heads of the Buckeyes.
Wolverine247: The Buckeyes were able to craft (pun intended) some interesting defenses against Michigan in the first game and were able to slow down Michigan’s ball movement and ability to get to the lane. Do you think anything changes this time?
Steve: They will try to do the same. Craft always gets up for Burke and has done well against him in 3 of their 4 meetings. But Burke will be on his home court where he plays really well. Stauskas did not play well first time either. My guess is he steps it up.
Wolverine247: Michigan isn’t necessarily a team that runs an uptempo offense, but they are very effective when they do push the ball. OSU will likely try to slow the pace. Do you think this is the right idea and how effective do you think they will be at slowing down Michigan?
Steve: Nobody really gets fast break points in the Big Ten. It’s just too hard and teams are too disciplined. My guess is Burke breaks out a couple times for easy ones but I can’t see this being a major factor. It will come down to defense and who produces in the halfcourt (like it almost always does in these high powered games)
Wolverine247: As many have noted over the season, Michigan’s defense and Ohio State’s offense have both been areas each team needed to improve. Deshaun Thomas has been great for Ohio State’s offense, but outside of Thomas, who is the one player Michigan must prepare to defend?
Steve: You never know. It could be Thompson one game, Smith the next or Ross or Craft. They can’t let Ravenel and Williams do a lot inside. If they combine for 15 points, that’s trouble.
Wolverine247: In Michigan and Ohio State’s first matchup of the season, there was a large amount of attention placed on the Burke vs. Craft matchup. Many believe Craft won the first bout of the season. How do you think he fares this time?
Steve: Craft will hold his own. He has been playing better of late. If he avoids foul trouble (and that has been an issue at times), he should be OK. Burke will probably outscore him but Craft’s big things are defending and setting up his teammates.
Wolverine247: There are certain things each team will have to do to win the game. What do you think Michigan needs to do to win the game and what do you think Ohio State needs to do to win this game?
Steve: Michigan needs to keep a handle on Thomas. He scores all over the floor and has now taken to setting up his teammates (who knew he could pass?). They can’t let him get loose for much more than 20. If that happens, OSU has a chance. OSU has to rebound and limit second-chance opportunities. That’s been a consistent theme in some of the losses.
Wolverine247: Final question. Any early predictions for the game’s outcome?
Steve: Yeah, my guess is Michigan comes out like a house of fire and shows its class with a nice bounceback win at Crisler. I liked what they did from about the second 10 mins of the first half at Indiana on. If they play like they did during most of that 30-minute stretch, they will be hard to beat. I see UM getting up by 10 to 15 early, OSU getting it back to 5-6 by the half, teams going back and forth in second half and Michigan probably winning like 68-62 in the end. Should be a great game with 2 of the best teams in the conference and the country.