The names of the two teams may conjure up images of a rivalry, but since Thad Matta came to Ohio State the Buckeyes have owned the Wolverines. Matta has a 16-6 record against Michigan in more than 10 seasons in Columbus, including a 19-point win on Jan. 13.
The Buckeyes are 5-3 since that win and are coming off a tough three-point loss at Michigan State. They’ve had a week off to think about that game, but Scott said the team is not dwelling on the defeat.
“We think we played hard that game, they just made one more shot than us basically,” Scott said of the MSU game. “We know we can’t take a step back, though. This league’s going to be tough no matter where we go. We want to play hard the way we played last game, but find a way to win though.
“The good thing is I don’t think we’ve reached our potential yet. We still have a lot of great basketball left. It’s coming down to the end of the year and we’ve got to pick it up, but I feel like as a team we’ve still got a lot to do and a lot to prove so I’m happy about that.”
While the Buckeyes have been up and down since their first meeting with Michigan, their rivals have struggled. That loss by the Wolverines (13-13, 6-8) was a start of a 3-7 stretch and the maize and blue is on a five-game losing streak heading into their contest with the Buckeyes (19-7, 8-5). If Ohio State gets a win tomorrow it will drop Michigan below .500 for the first time this season.
It wasn’t supposed to go this way for the Wolverines. A 27-member media panel picked Michigan to finish fifth in the Big Ten before the season started, but injuries have derailed the Wolverines season as they sit ninth in the league with a losing record in the conference.
It started with the loss of junior Caris LeVert for the season after the Wolverines’ Jan. 17 win over Northwestern. LeVert scored a team-high 14 points against the Buckeyes. The Pickerington native was leading Michigan with 14.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game and since a foot injury cost him the rest of his junior year the team has gone just 2-5.
Things got worse from there for UM as guard Derrick Walton Jr. also suffered a foot injury. The sophomore has missed the past six games, and while he may return this season it won’t be for tomorrow’s game. Walton is third on the team in points at 10.7 per game and second in both assists (3.0) and rebounds (4.7).
As it stands, Michigan is led by Zack Irvin. The 6-6 sophomore is averaging 13.5 points per game and 4.2 rebounds.
Head coach Thad Matta said that despite the injuries, he expects the Wolverines to remain in their system.
“The one thing is all those young guys – they’re very, very young – have really, really progressed. The things that they’re doing – the offense is the same, the defense is the same,” the coach said. “They have certain lineups that they’ll zone with and 1-3-1 with. But everything is pretty status quo. They’ve got a few new wrinkles and that sort of thing, but everything is the same.”
For their part, the Buckeyes will be without center Anthony Lee who will miss his third straight game with a nagging groin injury.
The game is vital for the Buckeyes as they attempt to keep pace in a crowded Big Ten. Ohio State is currently fifth in the conference, trailing Wisconsin (12-1), Maryland (10-4), Purdue (10-4) and Michigan State (9-4).