NCAA Saturday Game of the Night: #6 Ohio State at #17 Michigan

It’s a Big Ten clash set up for Saturday night as the #17 Michigan Wolverines (19-7, 9-4 Big Ten) bring in the #6 Ohio State Buckeyes (22-4, 10-3 Big Ten) to the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with tip-off set for 9:00 PM ET.

In a rematch game of the January 29th meeting in Columbus that saw the Buckeyes handily defeat the Wolverines 64-49, Michigan will be tasked this evening with overcoming a six-game slide against their Big Ten rivals, and will need to improve their defensive efforts as well as their shooting presence to contend against one of the stingiest defenses and highest shooting percentage teams in college basketball. Michigan’s Top 25 ranking this year has been built around their own quality defensive play, and has seen the Wolverines win 14 straight contests at home including quality victories over #15 Wisconsin, #7 Michigan State and #20 Indiana. The one telling stat that stands out in each of those wins? Michigan did not allow more than 59 points to the opposing team. What’s also very telling is the fact that in every Michigan defeat this season the Wolverines defense gave up 64 points or more, and in games where Michigan has allowed 64 points in regulation, they are just 3-7 overall. That means that for tonight one of two things has to happen for Michigan to win; either they need to contain OSU to under 64 points, or they need to find a way to at least meet or beat their season scoring average of 66.9 points against a tough OSU defense that is only giving up 57.1 points per game.

Michigan got a taste of that stingy OSU defense in the visit to the Buckeyes last month, where they were held to just %35.8 shooting from the floor and were dominated in just about every offensive category (despite the fact that OSU itself didn’t have a particularly great shooting night either, at %42.6). Just two players, Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.3 ppg) and the Big Ten’s top freshman guard Trey Burke (14.0 ppg), finished in double figures, and outside those two scoring leaders the rest of the Wolverines combined for just 21 points across seven possible contributors. That simply can’t be repeated tonight at home for Michigan, as without scoring presence from someone other than Hardaway Jr. and Burke, Ohio State will be able to focus and impose its smothering defense on the Wolverines’ top players, just like they have over the past six wins against them (holding Michigan to an average of 58.3 points and %41.7 shooting during that streak).

One player that could have an immediate bottom line impact for Michigan tonight is senior swing-man Zack Novak (9.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg), who was completely shut out of the scoring in Columbus last time out. Going 0-4 from the floor with 0 points and 4 rebounds in 33 minutes of work in the 64-49 loss, Novak obviously took that awful outing to heart and has seen a marked improvement since that game by averaging 13.2 points in his last 4 games on %60 shooting or better. One other potential candidate for improvement in tonight’s game comes off the bench, as the 6’9″ sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz (8.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg) leads all Michigan bench players in scoring and rebounds while averaging 21.9 minutes/game. Coming off a solid showing in Illinois, where he scored 13 points and generated 4 steals, Smotrycz could relieve some pressure put on Jordan Morgan (7.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) to be the dominant scorer in the paint by being more consistent in his shooting, and capitalizing on the 3-pt ball. Smotrycz, while one of the small-statured Wolverines’ bigger players, is also one of their two best shooters from beyond the arc at %42.1. Whether it’s in the paint or around the perimeter, a solid presence from him on the scoring line is a must in tonight’s match-up for Michigan.

Moving over to the Ohio State side of the ball, by now you should all be familiar with the Buckeyes’ bread and butter, in the form of one 6’9″ shooting forward Jared Sullinger (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg). Arguably the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten player of the year award, Sullinger is perhaps one of the most complete players in all of college basketball, shooting an impressive %56.1 from the floor on the season, and has the ability to carry his team almost single-handedly. That said, when put alongside the scrappy 6’6″ senior guard William Buford (15.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.1 apg) and the sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas (14.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg), this year’s crop of OSU talent is extremely tough to beat, as any one of these three top Buckeyes’ scorers can control the pace and flow of a ballgame with their physical and athletic style of play. In addition to this OSU ‘Big Three’, if you will, two other sophomores could factor heavily into tonight’s game. First Lenzelle Smith Jr. (6.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg), who was superb last month at home against Michigan in knocking down 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds while Jared Sullinger was on reduced minutes due to foul trouble, could be due for a better game tonight. Smith shot at or under %33.3 in his last three games, and has averaged 4.7 points in his last 4 games since the breakout against Michigan. Secondly Aaron Craft (8.3 ppg, 4.7 assists), who will be tasked with defending Trey Burke this evening, could provide a spark on both sides of the ball if he can limit the effect Burke has on the scoring line and also find more consistency in his shooting. Getting a performance out of him like the one he had against Michigan State (15 points, 8-8 from the free-throw stripe) or Indiana (16 points on 6-10 shooting) could be a great boost for the Buckeyes’ around the perimeter in tonight’s road match-up.

Betting lines for #6 Ohio State vs. #17 Michigan at <a target=”_blank” href=””>Intertops Sportsbook</a>

Intertops Sportsbook gets our wagers for tonight’s featured NCAA Basketball match-up between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the hosting Michigan Wolverines, however, with a great grouping of the <a target=”_blank” href=””>best online sportsbooks</a> found right here on our website, make sure to check over our <a target=”_blank” href=””>NCAA Basketball Odds Page</a> where you can compare a host of betting lines across many of the top sportsbook betting sites we’ve reviewed.

For tonight’s match-up, Ohio State marches in to Ann Arbor as the favorite to win on the money line, getting -220 odds to prevail while Michigan comes in as +180 underdogs to win straight up.

Against the spread, 5 points separate the two teams, with both getting -110 odds as is standard and Ohio State needing to cover 5 while Michigan gets 5 to play with.

With two stingy defenses looking to slow the tempo of the game down and disrupt the opposing sides’ rhythm as much as possible, the over/under on total points for tonight’s game sits at a low 125.5 points. If the last match-up between these two teams is any indication of how this game will be played (113 points in total), we could find ourselves with a another good-looking under total points wager set up for the game this evening.

Our Pick to Win:

I expect the Michigan Wolverines to come up with a better plan to contain OSU’s top scorers tonight, as it was evident in last month’s game between these two teams that simply locking down on Jared Sullinger won’t be enough to beat the Buckeyes. The Wolverines must make it a crucial part of their game to play smothering defense for 40 minutes and keep Buckeye’s away from high-percentage shots as much as possible if they are to stand a chance at prevailing and ending their 6-game skid against their Big Ten rivals. For Ohio State, equal contributions from Sullinger, Buford and Thomas will be key so as to avoid becoming too one-sided on offense. If the Buckeyes are forced to rely on any one player for the bulk of their points, or if they suffer a rough shooting night that’s anything like they had against Michigan State (%26.4 from the floor) Michigan could be poised for an upset on their home court. That said, Michigan itself also must do better to distribute the scoring around their own ranks and get higher percentage shots, as without good contributions from their bench and from their inside players like Jordan Morgan and Evan Smotrycz, Ohio State will be able to hone in and smother Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke, resulting in a low scoring effort for the Wolverines as a team. While I certainly expect this to be a much closer match-up than the one we watched in Columbus last month, I expect another win from Ohio State again tonight, as they simply have the better defense, better shooting, and the more physical presence at each position around the court. Ohio State prevails to stay at the top of the Big Ten conference standings, getting a 65-57 win in Ann Arbor.

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