It was a real question if the Buckeyes would be able to feed the ball into Jared Sullinger against Jordan Morgan as much as they did against a Purdue team that had no one to guard him. However, Sullinger had a brilliant encore, showing no signs of the struggles from just two and three weeks ago, as he and Deshaun Thomas led the Buckeyes offense to another strong offensive display in their 77-55 demolition of Michigan. The Buckeyes dominated in the paint once again and were ferocious on defense, forcing 18 Wolverine turnovers. The win sends the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title game where they still have a lot to prove and plenty for which to play.
Look no further than yesterday’s performance to determine why Aaron Craft was the hands down Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten Conference. Fresh off a career-high 30 point game against Minnesota Friday, Michigan point guard Trey Burke was held to just 5 points on 1-of-11 shooting and turned the ball over 8 times, a season high. Craft limited Burke’s touches, increased the difficulty of the touches that he did get, and with the help of his big men kept the freshman Michigan point away from the rim. Craft also had a stellar strip of Jordan Morgan on the block and had a key charge taken against Burke early in the contest. Craft said about the team’s effort on Burke, “Our bigs did a great job hedging ball screens today and everyone else did a good job of zoning up and not giving easy baskets for the most part.”
For the second straight game, the Buckeye offense stuck to a gameplan, moved the ball quickly around the perimeter, and they hit a high percentage of shots because they were most often shooting from in the paint. After a 48-14 margin in favor of the Bucks Friday against Purdue, they won the points in the paint by a 40-24 margin yesterday. Sullinger, who had been held to just 27 points and 11 field goals against Morgan and the Wolverines in two prior games, led the team in scoring with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go with 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. One of the reasons that Sullinger was unable to be doubled as frequently was Deshaun Thomas’s effectivness. Deshaun had 4 offensive rebounds, and he was a big part of the Buckeyes’ 19 second chance points. Thomas made 10-of-15 shots for 22 points and had 6 rebounds. With Thomas on a roll as of late, the Buckeyes now have a consistent second scoring option, whereas before William Buford was that option and he would come and go. Buford had a ho-hum game with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting, but he played solid defense and didn’t force much. The Buckeyes do need Buford, but he no longer needs to be the volume scorer that he has attempted to be for most of the season. If he is on fire that day, that’s another story, but most of the time, I’m okay with Buford giving us 10-15 points and playing a good floor game.
For the Wolverines, it just wasn’t their day. They started the game shooting just 1-for-10, had 3 points in the first 9 minutes of the game, and they turned the ball over 18 times. Michigan relies on the three-point shot heavily, and they were bricklayers with a 4-for-25 shooting. Tim Hardaway Jr. led them with 13 points, but he was just 3-of-10 from the field. The only UM player that had a solid day was senior Zack Novak, with 10 points and 5 rebounds. Man or zone, fast or slow, the Wolverines were absolutely blown away by what I believe is clearly the better team. Really, it’s a credit to them that they grabbed a share of the conference title given that Michigan State and OSU are the one seed candidates that they are.
That leads us to this afternoon, where the Buckeyes and Spartans will square off for the second straight Sunday. There is some disagreement among the bracketologists, but the winner should be in serious discussion for the last #1 seed. Given the strength and the depth of the Big Ten Conference this season, it is my opinion that whoever wins this afternoon in Indianapolis should join Kentucky, Syracuse, and North Carolina (with a win today) as number one seeds. Sorry, TD, your Jayhawks need a North Carolina loss to claim the last number one seed. Honestly, I believe number one seeds are a little overrated. The real key is matchups, and as long as Ohio State can stay out of Kentucky’s bracket, I’ll feel good with the Bucks as a 1 or 2. What they really need to avoid is a power bracket like last season with North Carolina, Syracuse, and Kentucky all in their region. First things first, though, the Buckeyes will look for their third straight conference tourney title in Indianapolis starting at 3:30.