Ohio State Holds On Against Michigan; Positioned for No. 1 with Duke Loss

While the Cavaliers struggled to avoid being doubled up this week, the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes improved to 17-0 last night with a 68-64 win over Michigan at Crisler Arena.

The current undefeated record represents the Buckeyes’ best start since the 1990-91 season.  As has been the case in football this century, Ohio State has dominated the Wolverines on the hardwood, with last night being their 12th win in the last 14 games against UM.

Michigan has an above average team this year at 11-6 with a few quality wins and no terrible losses from a very hard schedule.  The Wolverines, playing the No. 2 team in the nation just a few days after falling in OT to the No. 3 team in the country, showed some impressive fight from the under eight timeout to the final buzzer and gave their fans something to cheer about down the stretch.

One of these fans was new head football coach Brady Hoke. 

This game was obviously the secondary sports feature of the day in Ann Arbor, Michigan with Hoke grabbing all of the headlines.  A row of students behind the UM bench painted their chests to spell out the new coach’s name (pictured above) while the arena chanted his name intermittently throughout the first half.  Hoke did his part to fire up the crowd and student section as it was almost 10 years ago to the day that Jim Tressel was similarly introduced at a home basketball game against Michigan State, where he made his famous decree that “OSU fans would be proud of their young people in 310 days in Ann Arbor.”

Matta’s Buckeyes continue to make OSU fans proud and they are well on their way to a protected seed in March, which will likely result in them playing some of the more meaningfully contested basketball games than Quicken Loans Arena will see in 2011.  The word “balance” is overused when trying to describe the positive attributes of a sports team but that is really what propelled the Buckeyes to victory last night.  While Matta continues to limit his rotation to seven players, Ohio State’s greatest strength is their ability to spread the scoring and run the offense through almost every one of the few players that see action.

William Buford carried OSU in the first half as they tried to hang on after a slow first five minutes to the game.  He was able to consistently penetrate and pull up for a floater or take it to the rim and get to the line.  It’s been said that Buford, with the move to PG this season, has not had as much of an opportunity to look for his own offense.  Last night, however, he was able to mix in a couple threes, solid free throw shooting, and effective dribble-drives to finish with 19 points.  With the seesaw first half, Buford’s play kept OSU in the game.

Potential Player of the Year Jared Sullinger did not have a particularly impressive performance by his standards.  The key to Ohio State’s offense is how Sullinger reads the inevitable double teams thrown at him, but he was really hit-or-miss last night.  Too often, he would try to bust through the double- or triple-team, and turn the ball over or lose control as he tried to kick it out, leading to easy fastbreak points the other way.   And though Sullinger often looked uncomfortable with the ball in the double team, there were stretches where he completely facilitated the offense as he kicked out from the double team to guards Buford or Diebler for open threes.

This will be the lynchpin to OSU’s success – Sullinger’s reads of the double-teams and then whether or not those guards are hitting those open threes on the slow rotation.  Ohio State was able to extend its lead to 12 with this running smoothly in the 2nd half as open threes were falling and that let Sullinger get extremely low position on the physically overmatched Evan Smotrycz for easy buckets when the Wolverines did not double down.

The guards’ ability to enter the ball into Sullinger in the post was spotty as well but once he had it down low, the big freshman forward had a couple impressive drop-step dunks in one-on-one situations.  Smotrycz actually presented a matchup problem himself for Sullinger on the other end, drawing Jared out to the arc where he was slower to close out on the 6-foot-9-inch Wolverine shooter.  All six of Sullinger’s turnovers came almost exclusively while trying to do too much while double-teamed on the block (this also led to him fouling out with a couple offensive fouls).

Ohio State’s other freshman, Aaron Craft, had the more impressive game and it appears Craft will be the point guard moving forward.  He took Dallas Lauderdale’s minutes last night as the Buckeyes went smaller and moved William Buford to the “two.”  The Findlay product has likely cemented himself in the rotation as he controlled the ball, hit a couple threes, forced jump balls on defense, took charges, and – with OSU failing to score from the field in the final eight plus minutes – iced the game at the free throw line along with Buford.  It was enough to hold on for the four-point win and their 9th conference road win in a row, a streak unmatched by an OSU basketball team since the ’60s.  With Duke’s loss in Tallahassee, Ohio State is positioned to be the top ranked team in the country with a home win over Penn State this weekend.

Random notes…

David Lighty is so lethal at dipping his shoulder and getting to the hoop, either off the dribble or with his back to the basket, but that often results in a trip to the free throw line where he continues to be a huge liability – he was 6 of 13 last night…I’ve never been a big Jon Diebler fan.  He hit a couple threes at key points last night but he really struggles to close out on the defensive end and Michigan returned the favor with their own threes.  He hyperextended his elbow last night running into Lighty and wore a sleeve during the second half…Dallas Lauderdale played under a minute in the 2nd half and with the emergence of Craft, could be permanently relegated to this role against smaller teams…Michigan Coach John Beilein was upset at the 25 to 7 free throw disparity and commented on it after the game…The ebullient Gus Johnson, a Detroit native and self-proclaimed Michigan fan, called the game with OSU alum Jimmy Jackson…While this is a rivalry game, it does not exactly have the draw of the gridiron match-up as the upper decks were mostly empty and completely empty on the baselines…Thad Matta improved to 83-37 in Big Ten play.

(Photos: Robin Buckson / The Detroit News, AP/Carlos Osorio)

  • Lyon

    Great write up.

    I think we all knew it was inevitable Lauderdale lost his minutes to Craft. They’re just a different team w/ a true PG out there. Lauderdale will get his when we play teams with some big guys, but if he can’t stand in the paint and guard someone, he’s useless. You can’t pass to him on O and he’s too slow to guard on the perimeter.

    I do wish we’d get 1 or 2 more guys some more minutes in case an injury happens later in the year and you don’t have to throw someone in there who hasn’t played at all. That kid who played with Sully in HS didn’t look too bad when he’s seen the court. I feel like he could give the guards a spell & we wouldn’t have Lighty in foul trouble every game.

    I too am not a fan of Diebler; unless he’s hitting 3s. Because that’s the only time he actually provides something to this team.

  • Fern

    Hoke being there reminds me of Tressel being introduced at a OSU-Michigan basketball game, where he declared that the team would make us proud in 300 and some days when they played Michigan. Who could have guessed then that that would be the last time he would give any headline-worthy quote…

  • 6thCity

    Diebler can wow or fail depending on the streak, but Matta is playing the odds and I believe he should continue. Diebler has a tremendous 3pt %, I believe it remains around 50%, allowing him a spot as the 4th overall scorer on the team. When he’s off, he seems like a defensive liability, but generally, he’s an important offensive weapon, especially as we continue to see Sully kick it out of doubles to perimiter shooters. Criticism of him is unwarranted untill his 3pt slides and production falls, or if Lighty (whos 3pt% is a close 45%) somehow brings his 3 point shooting above half of the attempts of diebler, unlikely as we need his production elsewhere.

  • Lyon

    No, I’d say criticism is still warranted. All he does is shoot 3s. To say he struggles on D and seems to give up as many 3s as he hits is fair.

    Just because he can hit shots doesn’t mean we can’t expect him to provide us with something else on the court.