Having recently dropped from the top spot in the polls following a loss over the weekend, the third-ranked Michigan Wolverines will attempt to bounce back on Tuesday night when they play host to the 10th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Big Ten Conference showdown.
Since losing at Michigan State on Jan. 19, Ohio State has ripped off four consecutive wins to improve to 17-4 overall and climb into a tie for second place in the Big Ten with a 7-2 league mark. The Buckeyes began their current road trip on Saturday night with a 63-56 triumph over Nebraska to pull even away from home at 3-3.
Following a 68-46 win over Northwestern on Jan. 30, Michigan was sitting at 20-1, its best start in program history which had allowed it to climb all the way to the nation's No. 1 ranking, but continuing with the theme of the 2012-13 season, it did not hold that distinction for very long. The Wolverines fell in a marquee matchup at No. 3 Indiana on Saturday night, 81-73, but the good news is that they return home for this bout where they've won 28 of the last 29 games at Crisler Center, including all 13 this season.
The Buckeyes have won seven of the last eight games in the series with the Wolverines to take a 99-73 advantage in the all-time series, which includes a 56-53 triumph in Columbus on Jan. 13 to spoil Michigan's then-perfect season.
Despite shooting less than 40 percent from the field in Saturday's bout, Ohio State was still able to hold on for the seven-point road win by holding Nebraska to just 37.1 percent shooting and by outscoring the Cornhuskers from the foul line by a commanding 23-4 margin. Lenzelle Smith, Jr. was perfect on his six field goal attempts en route to a season-high 21 points. Deshaun Thomas has seen more efficient days shooting (6-of-18), but he still finished with 15 points, while Aaron Craft stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, six assists, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal. The Buckeyes have enjoyed a stellar year at the offensive end of the floor (71.8 ppg), but their elite status has come mostly due to their fantastic 57.3 ppg scoring defense, which is second to only Wisconsin in the Big Ten. Thomas is the conference's top scorer with 20.0 ppg, making 40 percent of his 3-point attempts and 81.6 percent of his foul shots while also leading the team with 6.2 rpg. Smith is a solid second option with 10.5 ppg, and Craft (9.2 ppg, 4.7 apg, 1.9 spg) is one of the nation's premiere perimeter defenders.
Michigan found itself down by as many as 15 points in the first half against Indiana over the weekend, and while it fought hard down the stretch it could not overcome the Hoosiers' outstanding effort from both the field (26-of-50) and the foul line (22-of-25). The typically-potent Wolverines shot a modest 42.9 percent from the floor and made just seven trips to the charity stripe. Trey Burke continued to show why he's considered an elite guard, tallying 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Tim Hardaway, Jr. netted 18 points, while Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary chipped in 10 points apiece. Despite its latest loss, Michigan's dominance has been well-documented this season, as it is the only team in the Big Ten to rank in the top-four in both scoring offense (77.8 ppg) and scoring defense (59.6 ppg). With 18.2 ppg, 7.2 apg, and a .487 field goal percentage, Burke is well on his way to All-America honors. Hardaway, Jr. (15.6 ppg) and Stauskas (12.5 ppg) have been outstanding from 3- point range, combining to hit 96 treys at a 45 percent clip. Not to be lost in the shuffle is Glenn Robinson III, who brings 11.7 ppg and a team-best 5.7 rpg to the mix.