Photo via CBS Sports
During the 2020 college football season, Big Ten and sports fans alike were robbed of the yearly spectacle of the rivalry between the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes on the gridiron. While Ohio State has won the last eight meetings, the rivalry still holds strong and it also carries into other sports, especially on the hardwood.
Coming into Sunday’s matchup, Ohio State had won five of their last eight matchups against Michigan and looked to make it six of nine in a battle of top-four teams in college basketball. In the early frontrunner for game of the year in the college basketball regular season, the third-ranked Wolverines outdueled the fourth-ranked Buckeyes 92-87 to pick up a crucial victory in their quest for a one seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Here are my three takeaways from the game.
1. Michigan proved they’re a legit National Championship contender
Due to COVID-19, Michigan suffered a three-week layoff in their pursuit of a Big Ten title and a number-one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The week prior, they outscored Wisconsin 40-20 in the second half to win 67-59, and on Thursday, Michigan took care of business against Rutgers 71-64. They shook off the rust in time for their biggest matchup of the season against their nemesis in Ohio State. They came out firing in the first half as they shot 10-13 on their 3-point shots, leading 45-43 over the Buckeyes at halftime. However, in the second half, Michigan only shot one for 10 on their 3-pointers, forcing Michigan to rely on their inside game and center Hunter Dickinson.
Michigan is incredibly balanced as Sunday’s game indicates. They can get hot from the 3-point line and if they are cold, they can simply go inside with their dominant inside presence and speed at the guard spot. Dickinson helped dominate a smaller Buckeyes squad with 22 points and nine rebounds. Point guard Mike Smith, who plays similarly to 2018 point guard Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman with his shooting ability and speed, killed the Buckeyes in transition as he dished out seven assists to go along with 11 points in the game. Franz Wagner, Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown all scored at least nine points with Brooks and Brown scoring 17 and 15 respectively, helping to support Isaiah Livers, who scored only 12 points on the game. Michigan has six legit scoring threats and with their ability to win games both inside and out, they are one of the most dangerous teams in all of college basketball and one of the favorites to win the national title in April.
2. Ohio State does not have the depth to make the Final Four
The Buckeyes clawed their way into the top five in the AP Poll after a seven-game winning streak that included wins over Wisconsin, Maryland and Iowa. They are led by the dynamic duo of guard Duane Washington Jr. and forward E.J. Liddell, who average 15.6 and 15.9 points per game. During the game against Michigan, these two balled out in front of a national television audience as Washington and Liddell scored 30 and 23 points respectively. C.J. Walker stepped up with 15 points but it wasn’t enough as no other Ohio State player scored more than six points to support their three-main scorers during the game.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann is one of the best head coaches in college basketball, building consistent programs at Butler and now at Ohio State. However, he has to figure out a way to get the rest of the players on the score sheet consistently so that Washington and Liddell are not carrying the team to success on a game-by-game basis. Also, Michigan, while they struggled to hit 3-pointers, had way too many wide-open shots. Ohio State struggled to guard Michigan on the perimeter and defend Dickinson inside. Ohio State must have more players step up and defend the perimeter more consistently if Ohio State wants to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
3. The Big Ten Tournament will be must-watch television
Sunday’s battle between Michigan and Ohio State displayed how the Big Ten Conference Tournament will be must-watch television. In the current rendition of the AP Poll, four Big Ten teams (Illinois and Iowa are the other two alongside Ohio State and Michigan) are in the top 10 and with the different strengths of the four teams, seeing these teams battle will be a treat for college basketball fans everywhere. Seeing Illinois center Kofi Cockburn battle Dickinson would be incredible along with Iowa center Luka Garza battling the duo of Washington and Liddell at Ohio State. Get the popcorn ready.