Playmakers: Morgan key vs. Ohio State

On Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes will battle in a critical Big Ten matchup. With weekend victories, Ohio State and Michigan State (at Purdue) would enter next week in a tie for first place.

If Ohio State loses Saturday, Michigan would maintain its current post as a serious contender for the Big Ten title. Both the Buckeyes and Wolverines would possess 10-4 records in that scenario. The Spartans could still claim sole possession of first place in the Big Ten or fall into a three-way tie for No. 1 with the Buckeyes and Wolverines.

This might be the most important game of the season for the Wolverines.

But how can they beat a team that toyed with them in the first matchup in Columbus (64-49 win Jan. 29)?

Well, Jordan Morgan will play a vital role in their upset bid.

In the first game, Morgan and the Wolverines pressured Jared Sullinger into a 13-point effort, but four Buckeyes reached double figures. Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Still, they harassed Ohio State’s best player. And the Wolverines will have to do it again Saturday to pull off the upset in Ann Arbor, where they haven’t lost this season.

Meyers Leonard scored 5 points in Michigan’s 70-61 win over the Illini Sunday. Morgan’s defensive effort was crucial in that game, but he made some mistakes, too.

Here’s an example of what Morgan and the Wolverines can’t do against Sullinger and the Buckeyes Saturday (0:39):

Morgan does a great job of putting a body on Leonard as soon as he catches the rock inside. Check out the distance between Leonard and the bucket. It will be much tougher to create that space against Sullinger. But Morgan can’t get pushed around.

Still, Sullinger is a solid passer. He doesn’t do it often (1.0 apg), but he’s capable of beating Michigan’s zone in a variety of ways.

Leonard finds Tyler Griffey on the cut for the easy basket during this sequence. And Sullinger will find his teammates in a similar situation Saturday. The Wolverines, like Ohio State’s other opponents, will have to balance pressuring Sullinger and defending Ohio State’s other weapons because the Buckeyes are not a one-man team.

Here’s an example of what Morgan and the Wolverines must do against Sullinger and the Buckeyes Saturday (0:46):

Brandon Paul’s entry pass to Leonard is deflected by an aggressive Morgan. He’ll have his hands full against Sullinger, but again, he can’t get bullied by the big man. And when the opportunity presents itself -- without fouling -- he has to obstruct the passing lane to Sullinger inside.

Great job on this play. But that’s not the end of it. The Wolverines have to capitalize off these opportunities Saturday.

And they do that here. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke lead the fast break and finish on the other end. It started with Morgan.

This is why Morgan’s performance Saturday will be so important for the Wolverines and their Big Ten title hopes.