Big Ten brawl pits Buckeyes against Wolverines

Bitter rivals meet in Ann Arbor tonight, as ranked Ohio State Buckeyes challenge the 17th-ranked Michigan Wolverines in what is an important late Big Ten Conference affair.

Ohio State comes in sporting a 22-4 overall record, and its 10-3 league ledger has it tied with Michigan State for first place entering the weekend. Michigan is 19-7 on the year, and at 9-4 in conference is just a game back in the standings.

The Buckeyes claimed a 78-68 win at Minnesota on Valentine's Day to mark their seventh victory in the last eight games, and improve to 5-3 in true road bouts in the process.

Michigan is a perfect 14-0 at home this season, and the team knocked off visiting Illinois in its most recent outing last Sunday. It was the second straight win for the Wolverines, marking their first winning streak since also prevailing in back-to-back outings at home versus Wisconsin and Northwestern on January 8 and 11, respectively.

This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams, as Ohio State claimed a 64-49 win in Columbus back on January 29 to take a 91-71 lead in the all-time series. The Buckeyes have won the last six meetings, and 15 of the last 17 overall. OSU is 5-2 in the series when both teams come in among the nationally ranked, but the Wolverines are 52-26 in games played in Ann Arbor over the years.

William Buford scored 24 points and Jared Sullinger tallied 23, leading Ohio State to its 10-point win at Minnesota earlier this week. Buford added eight rebounds and five assists to his solid stat line, while Sullinger also grabbed eight boards and converted 10-of-12 free throws. Deshaun Thomas chipped in 12 points for the Buckeyes, who shot 44.6 percent from the field and made good on 22-of-28 foul shots. OSU claimed a 37-32 edge on the glass, and committed just nine turnovers compared to 14 for the Golden Gophers. The Buckeyes are in the enviable position of challenging for the Big Ten regular-season title and possible top seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament thanks to the efforts of Sullinger (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Buford (15.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Thomas (14.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg), a trio of double-digit scorers who happen to contribute in a host of other ways as well. As a team, Ohio State owns significant margins in scoring (+18.7), rebounding (+7.0) and turnovers (+5.3), with their effort at the defensive end (57.1 ppg) perhaps being its most impressive.

The Wolverines put four players in double figures, led by Tim Hardaway, Jr. with 15 points, as they topped visiting Illinois last weekend in a 70-61 final. Trey Burke added 14 points despite an poor shooting effort (5-of-15, 0-4 from three-point range), Evan Smotrycz came off the bench to tally 13 points and Zack Novak chipped in a dozen for the Maize and Blue, who nailed half of their total shots while holding the Illini to 38.9 percent field goal efficiency. UM lost the battle on the boards (33-27), but committed just nine turnovers compared to 13 for Illinois. The Wolverines claimed a 10-0 edge in points on the break, and they outscored the Illini in the paint, 26-18. Hardaway, Jr. (14.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and Burke (14.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.8 apg) form one of the top backcourts in the Big Ten, but neither has been all that lethal when it comes to hitting their shots, the former doing so just 41.1 percent of the time, and the latter at 43.1 percent. As a team, Michigan is averaging 66.9 ppg in knocking down 46.1 percent of its field goal attempts, while yielding 60.5 ppg and goading the opposition into just shy of 13 turnovers per outing.