When Ohio State and Michigan met on the football field back in November, there was a whole lot at stake for both teams - namely a Big Ten Championship and trip to the BCS National Championship game. Although not quite as much is riding on the line Tuesday night, it's a game neither Ohio State nor Michigan can afford to lose.
The basketball game between the Wolverines and Buckeyes is a must-win for two programs going in different directions at this juncture of the season. For Ohio State, the win is necessary to protect home court, hold serve and stay in a tie for the Big Ten lead with Wisconsin. For Michigan, on the other hand, it's a chance to pick up a quality road win for it's diminishing NCAA Tournament hopes.
Despite some early losses for Michigan, which included road implosions against N.C. State and UCLA during the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Wolverines began Big Ten competition with a 4-1 record. However, Michigan has been in a steady decline since, losing three in a row.
With a relatively tough slate remaining after Tuesday evening, including two games against Michigan State, another meeting with Ohio State, Illinois and Indiana, Michigan is staring down another disappointing finish without winning a game of this magnitude. Head coach Tommy Amaker finds himself on the hot seat in Ann Arbor after six seasons without an NCAA Tournament berth.
Ohio State has won three meetings in a row against Michigan, after the Wolverines snapped a long losing streak to the Buckeyes with three wins of their own in the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. Despite a strong senior presence for Michigan, the Wolverines are soul-searching for the proper recipe to knock of the No. 3 Buckeyes in Columbus.
Right or wrong, the onus of Michigan's success or lack thereof against the Buckeyes Tuesday may rest on the shoulders of 6-11 senior center Courtney Sims. Sims has the unenviable task of facing 7-1 freshman Greg Oden.
This season, Sims is leading Michigan in scoring with a 12.8 average. He's also averaging 6.3 rebounds and has blocked more than 1.5 shots per game. Oden is leading Ohio State with 15.3 points and 9.6 rebounds a game while blocking 3.5 shots per game. Both Sims and Oden bring an identical 62.9 percent shooting percentage from the field.
In addition to Sims, perimeter scoring will be a key for the Wolverines. Michigan is scoring just 66.3 points a game and shooting 33.7 percent from 3-point range. Ohio State, on the other hand, is leading the Big Ten at 76.5 points per game while shooting 37.8 percent from outside the arc. Senior Dion Harris is second in scoring for Michigan and the only other Wolverine in double-figures at 12.6 points per game. He's shooting just 37.8 percent from the field, however.
Michigan (16-7) will also need junior Ronald Coleman to step up in a big way Tuesday night. Coleman scored 12 points last season in Columbus in a 64-54 loss to the Buckeyes. Coleman will be asked, along with Lester Abram, to help offset the scoring of freshman Daequan Cook (12.6 ppg), senior Ron Lewis (11.6 ppg) and junior Jamar Butler (8.6 ppg).
The 10-point victory for Ohio State (20-3) last season at the Value City Arena was the polar opposite of the game played in Ann Arbor, Mich. Feb. 9. Ohio State torched the Crisler Arena nets for a 94-85 win, going 15-of-24 from 3-point range. Butler led Ohio State that game with 20 points. Lewis added 14 and Ivan Harris had 11 points. Sims also had a huge day for Michigan with a career-high 26 points and 16 rebounds against Big Ten Player of the Year Terence Dials.
The Wolverines are hoping for another performance of that kind. More importantly, they're just asking to leave Columbus with a win.
What: Ohio State (20-3) vs. Michigan
Where: Value City Arena; Columbus, Ohio
When: Tonight, 7 PM
TV: ESPN (Brent Musberger & Steve Lavin)
PG Dion Harris (6-3 Sr.) - 12.6 ppg, 4.2 apg
SG Ronald Coleman (6-6 Jr.) - 7.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg
SF Lester Abram (6-6 Sr.) - 9.6 ppg, 45.6 percent FG
PF Brent Petway (6-8 Sr.) - 6.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg
C Courtney Sims (6-11 Sr.) - 12.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg
PG Mike Conley (6-1 Fr.) - 9.7 ppg, 6.4 apg
SG Jamar Butler (6-2 Jr.) - 8.7 ppg, 40.8 percent 3-pt FG
SF Ron Lewis (6-5 Sr.) - 11.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg
PF Ivan Harris (6-8 Sr.) - 9.3 ppg, 39.4 percent 3-pt FG
C Greg Oden (7-1 Fr.) - 15.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg