For the sixth time this season, Ohio State will face a team tied or ahead of them in the Big Ten standings when Michigan comes to Columbus tonight for a 7 p.m. tip. The Buckeyes are still seeking their first win in such games.
Thad Matta’s team is 8-5 in the league (16-10 overall), but those eight wins have come against the five worst teams in the conference standings. If the Buckeyes could top Michigan (19-7, 9-4) it would go a long way towards proving the team is able to compete with team with equal or better talent.
“I don’t know if I have anything that I can guarantee that we’re going to play extremely well, but I’ve challenged these guys mentally to get themselves ready to play,” Matta said. “We’re winding it down and now is when you play your best basketball, now is when we as a group play our best basketball.”
The Buckeyes are coming off a 10-point win over Rutgers, but Matta and players expressed disappointment with the team’s effort in the win over the dismal Scarlet Knights. A similar type of performance will not be enough to get past the Wolverines.
Michigan comes to Columbus riding a two-game winning streak that includes a 61-56 win over No. 18 Purdue in its last time out, a win that saw the Wolverines score the game’s final 11 points to secure the win. It was a statement win for John Belien’s team as Michigan became the first team this season to outrebound Purdue, winning the boards 39-35, and gave the Wolverines their second win of the season over a ranked opponent.
The Wolverines launched 20 threes in the win over the Boilermakers, and while they hit just five of them Michigan will be ready to fire against the Buckeyes. Michigan leads the Big Ten with 661 threes attempted this season and is third in three-point percentage at 40.4 percent.
“Communication, knowing personnel and helping the helper,” Jae’Sean Tate said when asked what was important in defending the Wolverines. “They’re a team that like you said likes to shoot a lot of threes, they run a lot of flare actions, come off a lot of screens so just communicating and knowing the personnel and what plays to be ready for is going to help us.”
The win over Purdue was also big for Michigan because it marked the return of Caris LeVert. The senior had missed the previous 11 games with a lower left leg injury, and while he did not score in 11 minutes of action against the Boilermakers, returning a player who recorded a triple-double earlier this season (13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists Dec. 15) is significant. LeVert has said he plans to play against the Buckeyes.
While the return of one of the best players in the conference may not bode well for the Buckeyes chances against Michigan, at least one Buckeye is happy to see LeVert back on the court for the Wolverines.
LeVert and Tate won a state title together at Pickerington Central and the Ohio State sophomore remains close with his high school teammate.
“That’s like my brother,” Tate said. “We keep up, I just talked to him a couple days ago. We won a state championship together. Seeing him come back senior year, I hope he is able to play. I know last week was his first week back. It’s always good to see him come back from an injury. I’m excited and I’m glad he had an opportunity to finish out his senior year and I’m glad he can come home.”
LeVert and Tate will face off on ESPN at 7 p.m.
Turner’s Number To Be Honored
During halftime of tonight’s game Evan Turner will be on hand as his No. 21 is hung in the rafters. The honor does not signify the number is retired, but Turner’s name will hang alongside those of John Havlicek, John Lucas, Gary Bradds and Jim Jackson.
“First and foremost you know how hard it is to get your number retired at this university, it’s extremely hard,” Matta said. I wanted to do it as soon as we possibly could just in terms of that’s an honor he’s deserved and I want that thing up there every time I step in there.
“For us to have our first guy going up there that played under our staff I’m excited for it.”
The 2010 National Player of the Year, Turner was the Big Ten player of the Year and a first team All-American in 2010. Following that year he was selected No. 2 overall in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and now plays for the Boston Celtics.
Turner was the team MVP as both a sophomore and a junior, leaving school after three seasons as the 18th leading scorer in program history. Turner is also among Ohio State’s program leaders in assists (No. 9) and double-doubles (No. 12) while he owns two of the program’s five triple-doubles.
He is the only National Player of the Year Matta has coach at Ohio State and the first of the coach’s Buckeyes to have his number honored.