Buckeyes and Wolverines Remarkably Similar
By Patrick Muprhy
Looking back at their recent histories as Ohio State and Michigan prepare to face off on the basketball court reveals similar trajectories the two teams over the last few seasons.
With arrivals of Coaches Thad Matta and John Beilein, both teams began to make regular trips to the NCAA Tournament – the Wolverines with three straight appearances and the Buckeyes making five – and both making deep runs.
The rivals have each had star players succeed in the Big Ten and go on to the professional ranks.
With this success comes natural turnover, an issue for both teams.
Ohio State has spent the season trying to score regularly after the loss of Deshaun Thomas, who averaged almost 20 points per game. Michigan has had to deal with the loss of National Player of the Year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. – both first round NBA selections.
The Maize and Blue had issues early, with an injury to sophomore center Mitch McGary and the loss of four out of eight games from late November to mid-December. Yet the Wolverines have found a way to right the ship, winning 10-consecutive games and 11 of 13.
Despite the losses from last season, Michigan is tied for first place in the Big Ten standings and Buckeye guard Aaron Craft can see why they’ve been able to rebound from their losses.
“I think they’ve really explored more of their options throughout their offense,” he said.
“Obviously Trey was a great player last year… but this year, obviously they have guys who can go off in [Nik] Stauskas, Caris [LeVert], and all those guys, Glenn [Robinson III]. I think they’re doing a much better job of, they’re spreading it out. They’ve got more options on their offense now and it makes it a lot more difficult to defend.”
Stauskas has been the star this season, leading the team in scoring and assists.
“He’s expanded his game,” Craft said of Stauskas.
“He took the spring and summer and found a way to make himself more than one-dimensional and it makes it a lot tougher to defend him.”
Stauskas’ offseason work has increased his scoring average from 11 points in 2012-13 to 17 and bettered his assists by almost two and a half per game. Last season, Stauskas was used as a shooter but this year he is incorporating all aspects of the game.
Still shooting well – 48.9% from the field – he is putting the ball on the floor more and getting his teammates involved, helping to alleviate the loss of Burke.
Thad Matta is not surprised – he knew it was there all along.
“I saw that in him last year,” the Ohio State’s head coach said.
“I remember watching personnel clips of him and saying man this guy has got a lot to his game in terms of driving and passing and scoring. Now obviously this year, with the subtraction of a couple guys, his role is elevated.”
As Craft said, it is not just Stauskas who has filled the void for the Wolverines, but players like LeVert, Robinson, and even senior Jordan Morgan.
“I think it would be a lot tougher if they didn’t have guys that have been in their system,” Craft said of dealing with their personnel losses.
“Morgan’s been there for, it seems like forever, I guess as long as I have. He’s been in the system, he’s been through the battles, he’s played minutes in big games, and he’s dealt with adversity as well.”
Ohio State has lots of experience in their scheme, yet has endured recent struggles in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes believe their three-straight wins, including two on the road against ranked opponents, mark a turning point in this season.
Just like Michigan, it took the Scarlet and Gray a few bumps in the road to overcome the loss of their star. Amir Williams knows that these struggles have dug a hole, but a win over their rivals can help them climb back into the Big Ten race.
"We can’t come out lackadaisical, come out like it’s just some other game,” he said.
“This is an important one to help us continue to build our standing in the Big Ten and help for a place in the Big Ten Tournament so we’ve got to come out and be focused and be ready.”