Print and Go Back ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation [Print without images]

Friday, February 17, 2012
Medcalf/Brennan: OSU-UM Watercooler talk

By Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf

Editor's note: Myron Medcalf and Eamonn Brennan chatted Thursday night and looked ahead to the Ohio State-Michigan matchup Saturday.

Eamonn Brennan: It's rapid-fire chat time, Myron. Big game in the Big Ten on Thursday night, but the result -- a Michigan State blowout over Wisconsin -- was about what we expected. Next up? Ohio State at Michigan. The Buckeyes need to turn the page quickly if they're still interested in taking home another Big Ten title. Spoiler alert: I think they do. What say you of Michigan's chances?

Trey Burke
Aaron Craft helped harass Michigan freshman guard Trey Burke, right, into 5 turnovers in the teams' first meeting, which Ohio State won by 15.
Myron Medcalf: I like Michigan's chances. Ohio State has looked vulnerable in February. The Wolverines haven't lost at home this season. Although the Buckeyes whipped them by 15 points Jan. 29, they were tough on Jared Sullinger. If they can play solid D on Sully again and hit 3s, get solid production from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke, I could see an upset. You?

EB: Yeah, you have to love the way Michigan holds serve, to use a brutal sports cliche, in its own building. It's about team defense for the Wolverines in this one. No one player in their frontcourt can match up with Sullinger, obviously. But if they can provide good help, but also rotate well enough to make things difficult for the perimeter players, they might just keep him in check.

It'll be interesting to see how much zone John Beilein uses. It's usually not much, except out of timeouts and such. But Michigan might be better off using a lot of 2-3 or 1-3-1 to keep the big man out of the paint and away from pure one-on-one matchups.

The other issue, though, is defense. Ohio State's is still the best in the league (and on a per-possession basis still the best in the country, though I might argue Kentucky's is getting there). Can the Buckeyes shut down UM's attack in Ann Arbor?

MM: I think they can. The Buckeyes have to be in attack mode right now. And they were too diverse, too big and talented for Michigan in the first meeting. They've held Big Ten opponents to 59 points per game. And right now, the Bucks don't have any guarantees in terms of the Big Ten title. It's crowded on the top of the league right now. So I think OSU will come out in beast mode. At the same time, Michigan is a different monster at home. How important will Hardaway be in this game?

EB: Somewhere between "very important" and "very very very important," I'd say. But arguably more important is the play of Burke. Aaron Craft does so much to disrupt opposing point guards -- the way he slaps at everything, the way he uses his body to push players into traps and corners, the way he draws fouls, all of it. If Craft takes Burke out of the game, Michigan's offense becomes far less dynamic, and that might be your game right there.

Jordan Morgan
Michigan needs Jordan Morgan to help defend Jared Sullinger, right, but also provide some offense.
MM: I agree. He's a freshman. But he has to be the leader for this squad. He had five turnovers in the first meeting. My guess is that another five-turnover game for Burke would result in another loss. He has had four or more turnovers in three Big Ten games; the Wolverines lost all of them. They have to play controlled basketball. They have to hit 3s. And while I think Burke is key, you can't underestimate Jordan Morgan's role, too. Is he the second-most-important player in this game?

EB: Sure. The ability to check Sullinger, or at least slow him down, without the whole defense being forced to collapse would go a long way toward keeping this thing in striking distance. And some inside buckets on the other end would help, too. Otherwise, Michigan is going to be firing up 3s most of the evening. That's not necessarily bad -- the Wolverines like to shoot 3s, and they're pretty good at it -- but OSU has a way of making your attack one-dimensional. Once you get there -- once the Buckeyes start extending out -- you're pretty much done.

MM: Exactly. Let's look into the future. It's March 4. Will Ohio State and Michigan State be playing for the Big Ten title in East Lansing that day?

EB: I say yes. This works regardless of the outcome tomorrow, actually, because Michigan State still has to go to Indiana. Obviously, there are other potential losses in there for both teams. But I think Michigan has roughly the same chance of beating Ohio State as Indiana has of beating Michigan State at home, and so, you know, yeah: March 4, in East Lansing, Big Ten title on the line. What could be better than that?

MM: Nothing. I'd love to see that.