(Preview from The Sports Network)
GAME NOTES: The top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes continue their assault on the 2010-11 season, as they welcome the Michigan Wolverines to Columbus for Big Ten action at Value City Arena.
The only unbeaten left in college basketball, Thad Matta's Buckeyes are 22-0 on the season, a mark which includes a 9-0 start to league play. It marks the best start in-conference for OSU since the 1961-62 season. The victories have piled up but not all have come easy, including last weekend's 58-57 nail-biter at Northwestern.
The Wolverines have had their ups and downs this season and that inconsistency has resulted in a 13-9 mark thus far. Conference play has been even tougher for Michigan, which enters this contest at a mere 3-6 in the Big Ten. Still, the Wolverines have played well of late, winning two straight games with victories over Michigan State (61-57) and most recently, Iowa (87-73).
The Buckeyes have dominated this series of late, winning 12 of the last 14 meetings, including a hard-fought 68-64 decision at Michigan on January 12th. As a ranked squad, OSU is 30-4 in games against the Wolverines, including wins in the last nine meetings while ranked in the top-25.
The Wolverines found their groove in the second half against Iowa, converting a sizzling 73.1 percent from the floor (19-of-26), in posting a 14-point win over the Hawkeyes. There was plenty of scoring to spread around, as all five starters finished in double figures. Darius Morris posted the third triple- double in school history, finishing with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. Tim Hardaway Jr. poured in 19 points, followed by Jordan Morgan (17 pts), Eric Smotrycz (14 pts) and Zack Novak (13 pts).
Morris is the straw that stirs the drink in Ann Arbor, leading the team in both scoring (15.4 ppg) and assists (7.1 apg). Hardaway is next in line at 11.8 ppg, while Novak (9.9 ppg) and Morgan (8.5 ppg) provide some scoring depth. Still, the Wolverines are far from an offensive juggernaut, averaging just 67.1 ppg on a pedestrian .442 shooting.
It is no wonder the Buckeyes are sitting atop the national polls, as the team ranks among the nation's best in several important categories. Ohio State leads the nation in scoring margin (+20.9), ranks third in field-goal percentage (.500) and second in turnover margin (+5.8). The team lost the National Player of the Year from last season (Evan Turner), but has replaced him with another candidate in freshman phenom Jared Sullinger. The 6-9 youngster is averaging a near double-double with team highs of 18.0 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.
A trio of veteran guards provide plenty of backcourt balance in the form of William Buford (13.5 ppg), David Lighty (12.4 ppg) and Jon Diebler (11.3 ppg). It wasn't expected to be easy against Northwestern over the weekend, but few could have envisioned just how much trouble Ohio State would have. Despite shooting an impressive 56.8 percent from the floor, the Buckeyes managed a mere 58 points. Sullinger was responsible for a good portion of that scoring, netting 21 points. Aaron Craft came off the bench to add 13 points to the cause, while Buford chipped in with 11.
The Buckeyes walked the tightrope against the Wildcats this past weekend and while Michigan has played well of late, OSU will continue its run toward a perfect season with a comfortable win over the Wolverines.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Value City Arena (13,751) -- Columbus, Ohio. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Michigan 11-4, Ohio St. 15-0. Away Record: Michigan 2-3, Ohio St. 7-0. Neutral Record: Michigan 0-2, Ohio St. 0-0. Conference Record: Michigan 3-6, Ohio St. 9-0. Series Record: Ohio State leads, 88-71.
TSN PREDICTION: Ohio State 76, Michigan 63