It was Sunday, January 13 when the 18-0 Michigan Wolverines sauntered into Value City Arena to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes whose play had not met the expectations of many in the sports media. The Buckeyes had 3 losses, and even though all three were losses to top ranked teams, the Wolverines came in with a swagger that exuded confidence. They planned to walk over those pesky Buckeyes.
It didn't happen.
In a hard fought game by both teams, Ohio State completely dominated the Wolverines, and sent them home with their first loss of the season. Aaron Craft threw Michigan star Trey Burke off of his game, and his teammates just couldn't compensate for his loss.
This game would have been enough to assure a good game with attitude in the rematch between these two teams. Simply getting revenge on the Buckeyes and proving a point would have given all of the incentive Michigan needed to play their best against Ohio State. But this weekend, Michigan was given even more of a reason.
Since that one loss to Ohio State, Michigan has continued to go undefeated in their build-up to the rematch. Undefeated, that is, until this past Saturday when the #1 ranked Wolverines ventured into Indiana and met up with a #3 Hoosier juggernaut that got ahead of them, and stayed ahead of them the entire game, allowing them to get within 2 on multiple occasions just to add to the frustration.
Now this Michigan team has much more to prove than the original loss to the Buckeyes was just a fluke. Now they want to regain their #1 status, and in doing so they can't just defeat Ohio State, they have to blow them away.
But can they?
As mentioned earlier, Craft put the lock-down on Burke the last time they met holding him to 15 points and 4 assists, both below his average. Deshaun Thomas remains the leading scorer in the Big Ten, and last time the Wolverines had no answer for him as he led all scorers on both teams with 20 points. Michigan is going to have to sort out these two problems at home, but there's a new wrinkle – since that first game some other Buckeyes have started to emerge.
Amir Williams has become more of a threat to Michigan as he begins to accumulate more positive stats in blocks, assists and scores. Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Sam Thompson have also become players to contend with in this competition. Thompson's scoring is on the rise, and he is extremely difficult to defend. Smith's speed and quick decisions have been giving other teams fits for weeks, and he's getting better every time he steps on the court.
When you add this talent to the coaching ability of Thad Matta, it's easy to see that this game is not going to be a walk-over for the Wolverines. Man-for-man, Michigan probably has the overall better talent in this matchup. But Thad Matta is a calculating, crafty coach, and he will not only have his Buckeyes ready, but the staff will be ready help their players control the game and do what it has to do in order to secure the win. And if you doubt it, just ask Wisconsin.
There are no easy games in the Big Ten this year, and this game is about as far away from easy as you can get for either team. Both teams are skilled. Both teams are fit. Both teams want this win. The team that is ahead at the final buzzer in this game is likely to be the team that was able to keep their composure, stay disciplined and play smart.
If history is any indication, that should be the Buckeyes.
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