Tuesday night, Michigan will square off with its arch-rival once again, but this time the game will be in Ann Arbor instead of Columbus. Michigan's first loss of the season came to the Buckeyes just a few weeks ago and the Wolverines are surely hoping for a rebound not only against Ohio State, but also from Saturday night's loss to Indiana. Both teams are in the midst of their toughest stretches of the season and every win is crucial, adding even more weight to this game. This is the only home game Michigan gets during a four game stretch including Indiana, Wisconsin, and MSU, so if the Wolverines want to stay in the Big Ten race, coming away with a victory over the Buckeyes is key.
Hopefully we don't see a lot of Burke guarding Thomas tonight.
The Buckeyes: Much is the same about Ohio State since the first meeting. They play tough defense, but can often struggle on the offensive side. Of course, their team makeup is much more complicated than a good defense and a weak offense, but the thing that has held back this team so far this season is the lack of offensive playmakers. They do have Deshaun Thomas, who averages a blistering 20 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, but there is a pretty steep drop-off from Thomas to his teammates. The only other player to average at least 10 points a game is Lenzelle Smith, Jr. who averages 10.5 points, 5.4 assists, and 1.6 assists per game. He puts up great numbers against weaker teams, but when Penn State and Nebraska are removed, Smith only averages 6.2 points per game in B1G play, not exactly spectacular.
Buckeye fans had hoped that Aaron Craft would step up on the offensive side more this season. His defense continues to be fantastic and he is averaging 9.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game, but he hasn't quite taken that leap that many hoped. The big matchup highlighted will be Trey Burke vs. Craft and rightfully so, but one of the interesting things will be how Craft does offensively. He got 9 points and 4 assists in the first game against Michigan, which is just shy of his average. Can Burke slow him down a little bit more this time? It could be a major factor in the outcome.
Along with these three, OSU relies heavily on a few others. Sam Thompson has not been insanely productive with 6.9 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, but he does average 24.1 minutes per game and he's been even above that in the last few games. Shannon Scott has been a pleasant surprise for the Buckeyes this season. His minutes and production haven't been great lately, but he is a very good passer and can do a lot of damage to opponents by spreading around the ball. Finally, Evan Ravenel has been a pretty big contributor despite limited playing time. He gets 5.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game and can be a valuable defensive playmaker. Two other players worth mentioning are LaQuinton Ross and Amir Williams who have both been playing well lately. Ross had 8 points in 20 minutes against Wisconsin and Williams had 7 points against Nebraska.
Keys To The Game: The big thing for Michigan will be getting things going offensively. In the first game, Michigan struggled to create ball movement and get to the lane. A big part of this was the defensive play of Craft on Burke, but Stauskas and Hardaway also struggled to get movement and create openings. Even if Stauskas can hit a few shots to open up the lane, that would be a huge help to Burke and Hardaway. Stauskas had 0 points in his first game against Ohio State and Michigan needs much more from him. The biggest part will be how Burke moves the ball, but Michigan's other guards will have to get things going as well.
Michigan also needs to get started early. Michigan's slow start was the thing that dominated the first matchup. They didn't start nearly as badly on the road against Indiana on Saturday, but Michigan really needs to hit the right foot early. If they can get set defensively and hit some big shots, it's hard to imagine the Buckeyes going on the road and keeping up with Michigan. They have the defense to stay in the game, but do they have the playmakers? Michigan practiced specficially to stop Deshaun Thomas and surely it's easier said than done, but the Wolverines desperately need to slow him down. They can't afford for him to have one of his 20 point nights. Overall, it's hard to see Michigan start as poorly as they did the first time and it's hard to see the Buckeyes keeping up with Michigan's offensive weapons as the game goes along.
Players To Watch: The big player to watch will be Trey Burke. Most argue that one of his weakest games of the season was against the Buckeyes, but many seem to forget that Burke was one shot away from pulling out the victory and being a hero for Michigan. So even if he did have a "bad" game, it wasn't nearly as horrible as many in the media claim. Next up is Nik Stauskas. Stauskas had a terrible game against the Buckeyes earlier in the season and really needs to perform better in this one. There's probably no way to go but up for him in this game, but if he can punish the Buckeyes for guarding the inside, it would be huge for Michigan. The final player to watch is Tim Hardaway, Jr. for many of the same reasons Stauskas was chosen, Hardaway needs to have a solid game. If Michigan can get rebound games out of these players, odds for a win are pretty good.
Prediction: Michigan by 8