Wolverine Showdown

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Last updated: 01/12/2013 6:22 PM

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Men's Basketball
Buckeyes Ready for Sunday’s Showdown with Burke, Michigan
By Patrick Murphy

(Editor’s Note: Patrick Murphy is a new contributor for The-Ozone who will be helping us with coverage of the football and basketball teams, along with some other Ohio State sports. He is a former soccer player, a graduate of The Ohio State University, and a massive fan of the Columbus Crew. Check back for a full introduction on the Front Page some time next week).

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Back in the preseason, Sunday’s basketball game between Ohio State and Michigan looked as if it would be the first marquee matchup of what is sure to be an exciting Big Ten season.

The Buckeyes were the No. 4-ranked team in America heading into the year, while the Wolverines were projected as the fifth best team in the country. Both fan bases had high expectations for their school and this game would be pivotal for Big Ten success.

While Ohio State has already suffered three losses this season – including one in league play – Michigan is flying high coming into Columbus on Sunday (1:30 p.m. ET, CBS). The team up north remains undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country. They are beating their opponents by an average of 22 points a night this season, with the nation’s 22nd most difficult schedule, and they are scoring just under 70 points per game.

Junior point guard Aaron Craft highlighted the difficulty of playing a team of the caliber of the Wolverines.

“They’re a great basketball team,” he said Friday.

“It would be great if you could just focus on one or two guys, but I think they have about four or five guys that can beat you and they can put them all on the court at the same time.”

While it is true that Michigan has talent at every position, it has been the play of Columbus native Trey Burke that has fueled them. The sophomore point guard is the Wolverine’s leading scorer at 18.2 points per game and is averaging just over seven assists, while turning the ball over just under two times each outing.

“(Burke) is a great player and he took the spring and summer and definitely improved his game,” Craft said of the man he will be guarding. The Buckeyes’ defensive catalyst knows though that it will be a team effort to slow down the player of the year candidate.

“Hopefully we can stay connected because that’s what it is going to take to guard him and that’s what we were able to do a little bit last year and had some success.”

In those two wins, the Buckeyes limited Burke to 13 points and five assists in Columbus and just five points and four assists in the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan has plenty of players who can hurt the Buckeyes – Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Glen Robinson III are all scoring in double figures – Burke is where it all starts and the defense on him will be key.

Head coach Thad Matta, who is 16-3 against the Wolverines in his career at OSU, had lots of praise for the opposition heading into Sunday’s battle.

“I think right now they are playing tremendous basketball,” Matta said.

“Obviously sitting at 16-0, they’ve got a great rhythm to what they’re doing and how they’re doing it… They’re playing as well as anyone I’ve seen so far.”

As Ohio State heads into this game, they know what they have to do to beat their first ranked opponent of the year. Deshaun Thomas will need to find his stroke early, as he did against Purdue, but at least one of his teammates must score consistently as well, as Michigan will undoubtedly get their points.

On the other side, Matta echoed the sentiments of his point guard; this will be a game won or lost as a team.

“It’s got to be all hands on deck type of defensive performance,” he said Friday.

“We’re going to have to be at our best in terms of defensive awareness, challenging shots, and rebounding the basketball.”

While these elements of basketball seem essential for any game, they are all things the Buckeyes have not done consistently in their losses. Against good teams, these fundamentals become that much more important because there is such a small window for error, and this team has not yet shown that it can be sound in these aspects against top opposition.

The defense and rebounding becomes even more important for a team like Ohio State that is challenged offensively. While it will be necessary for someone beside Thomas to have a productive game scoring, the Buckeyes are not a team that can win a game by simply trying to outscore the opponent.

Because there are likely to be no surprises by either team, this game will come down to execution. The team that runs their game plan more efficiently will likely win the game. Ohio State fans will hope that this team has gained experience from its previous three ranked foes, as they do not want to fall to yet another one.

Most especially this one.

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