Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The team’s roles have been reversed, but the matchup remains just as big.
The Ohio State men’s basketball team is set to take on Michigan at the Schottenstein Center Sunday, and for the first time in a while, the Buckeyes will be playing the part of the underdog.
OSU (12-3, 2-1 Big Ten), ranked No. 15 in the country by the Associated Press, has struggled at times this season, losing all three of the games it has played against ranked opponents.
Michigan (16-0, 3-0 Big Ten), ranked No. 2 by the AP, is one of two remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball (Duke the other).
The Buckeyes have won seven of the last eight games in the heated series, but the Wolverines seem poised to take hold of the rivalry this season.
Led by sophomore point guard and Columbus native Trey Burke, the Wolverines are one of the deepest teams in the Big Ten with four players averaging more than 12 points per game. Michigan, the favorite to win the conference and a likely candidate for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, has won its three Big Ten games by an average of 23 points.
“They’re a great basketball team. It’d be great if you could focus on one or two guys, but they have four or five guys that can beat you,” junior point guard Aaron Craft said.
Burke, who will have about 20-25 friends and family members in attendance Sunday, said his team is looking forward to letting the nation know they are deserving of the attention they are getting. Michigan only has one win against a top-25 opponent: a 79-72 defeat of then-No. 19 ranked North Carolina State in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“We want to prove to everyone we’re deserving of this ranking,” Burke said in a teleconference with reporters Friday.
OSU, coming off a win at Purdue Tuesday, is still in search of its first marquee victory. The Buckeyes dropped games at No. 1 Duke and at home against No. 6 Kansas in non-conference play before getting blown out at No. 12 Illinois Jan. 5.
A win over a top-5 team would do wonders for the Buckeyes’ mental state, junior forward Deshaun Thomas said.
“It’d be something special for us. We’ve had our ups and downs this year. It’d give us confidence,” Thomas said.
Stopping Burke, a potential All-American averaging 18.2 points, 7.3 assists and three rebounds a game, will be key for OSU.
“He’s a great player and took this spring and summer and improved his game,” Craft said. “I think he’s trusting his teammates a little more as well, and that’s made him a better overall player. His assist to turnover rate is pretty staggering as well.”
Along with stopping Michigan’s floor leader, whether or not Thomas gets some help of the offensive end will be big in deciding the outcome Sunday. Against the Illini, Thomas scored 24 of OSU’s 55 points. Craft was the only other Buckeye in double figures with 11.
OSU and Michigan are scheduled to tipoff at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Sunday’s game has already been declared a sellout by the OSU Athletic Department, and the anticipation for the contest was clear outside the Schottenstein Center Friday afternoon.
Shortly before 4:30 p.m., there were five tents set up outside the student entrance to the arena, roughly 45 hours before tipoff.
“I saw them,” Craft said. “Those guys stick by us no matter what we’re going through.”