NO. 20 MICHIGAN (16-5, 6-2 Big Ten) AT NO. 3 OHIO STATE (18-3, 6-2 Big Ten)
Time/TV: 1 p.m./CBS
Location: Value City Arena
Michigan 22 (No. 4 Big Ten)
Ohio State 8 (No. 2 Big Ten)
Line: Ohio St -14 (127 o/u)
Michigan Players to Watch: G Tim Hardaway Jr., 6-6 So. (15.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.4 apg); G Zack Novak, 6-4 Sr. (9.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 50.3% FG); F Jordan Morgan, 6-8 So. (7.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 65.1% FG). Later this season, Novak should become the 28th Wolverine to reach 1,000 points and 500 rebounds for his career. He currently has 967 points and 555 boards.
Ohio State Players to Watch: F Jared Sullinger, 6-9 So. (17.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 59.5% FG); G William Buford, 6-6 Sr. (15.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.3 apg); F Deshaun Thomas, 6-7 So. (14.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 54.4% FG). Sullinger is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week after 19 points and 12 rebounds in the Buckeyes’ 71-40 win over Nebraska, and 28 points, eight boards and four steals as OSU defeated Iowa 76-47 on the road.
Storylines: The Buckeyes, who are riding a 3-game winning streak after starting conference play 3-2, and Michigan, which has won 4-of-5 league games with a loss at Arkansas mixed in, are tied with Michigan State at the top of the Big Ten standings. With the Spartans off this weekend, the winner of Sunday’s tilt moves to the front of the pack.
Keys: Ohio State is second in the Big Ten in scoring (78 points per game behind Indiana’s 78.4) and second in scoring defense (55.9 to Wisconsin’s nation-best 49.6). Of course, the Buckeyes are the league leader in scoring margin at 22 points per game – 6.5 points better than Wisconsin and Michigan State. The Buckeyes are also second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage. Their 49.4 percent is a hair behind Indiana’s league-best 49.8. Ohio State should have an advantage on the boards. The Buckeyes grab 37.2 boards per game to the Wolverines’ 33, and OSU has a plus-7.6 rebounding margin to Michigan’s plus-2.3. Ohio State is tops in the Big Ten in turnover margin. It forces 18.1 errors per contest, while committing only 11.8 of its own. Michigan ranks eighth in the league with a plus-1.52 margin. Michigan ranks second in the conference, making 8.1 3-pointers per game, but Buckeyes’ 3-point defense is superb, allowing opponents to shoot just 31.6 percent against them. Sullinger and Michigan freshman point guard Trey Burke grew up together in Columbus and were teammates at Northland High School and in AAU. This will be the first time they’ve ever faced each other. Buckeye reserve J.D. Weatherspoon was also on the Northland squad. Michigan’s 16-5 start is the best under coach John Beilein. The Wolverines’ last three games have been decided by a total of five points. They beat Michigan State 60-59, lost to Arkansas 66-64, then won at Purdue 66-64 in their last outing. Over Michigan’s last four games, Morgan is shooting 68.2 percent from the field (15 for 22), and he’s averaging nine points and 4.8 assists. He’ll likely get the assignment against Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Sullinger. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series 90-71 and are 51-26 all-time in Columbus vs. the Wolverines. Ohio State has won the last five and 14 of its last 16 against its rival. This is the first time both teams entered a head-to-head contest when both were ranked since Feb. 9, 2006. That day, the Buckeyes beat Michigan, 94-84. Sullinger had 14 points and 13 rebounds in the last meeting vs. Michigan, a 68-61 victory in last year’s Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State is 15-0 at Value City Arena and has beaten its opponents by an average of 27 points per game there. OSU has won 37 straight games at home overall. Michigan is 2-4 in true road games this season after winning at Purdue Tuesday.
The Bottom Line: The Buckeyes have clearly turned a corner since two early Big Ten losses and should pull away for an easy win.
The Pick: Ohio State 86, Michigan 62