Basketball Preview: Ohio State Searching For Third Straight Win in Ann Arbor For the First Time Since 1971

By Griffin Strom on February 5, 2023 at 8:35 am
Hunter Dickinson, Zed Key
Rick Osentoski – USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament hopes are dwindling with each passing game.

Michigan (12-10, 6-5 B1G) Crisler Center 1 p.m. CBS

Regardless of what happens in the regular season, the Buckeyes can still earn a bid by winning the Big Ten Tournament. But unless things change in a hurry, they won’t have an easy road given their 12th-place standing in the conference. With an 11-11 record overall, gives Ohio State just a 23% chance to receive an at-large bid to the Big Dance.

Now on the heels of eight losses in the past nine games, Ohio State heads to Ann Arbor for a rivalry matchup that should provide some extra incentive for improved performance.

“That's our job as coaches to figure out (how to turn things around). That's what we're trying to do,” Chris Holtmann said after Ohio State's 65-60 loss to Wisconsin on Thursday. “That's what we're working hours on end to try to do. We're spending hours and hours trying to figure out what we need to do better to get our players in better position, and certainly to perform at a higher level. So if I had answers for you right now, then we might not have performed like we did.”

Michigan hasn’t been much more consistent than Ohio State in Juwan Howard’s fourth year as head coach. The Wolverines are just 12-10 on the year and sit one game above .500 in conference play. Michigan hasn’t won back-to-back contests since the first week of January. Since then, it’s been defeated by Michigan State, Iowa, Maryland, Purdue and Penn State. However, the Wolverines turned in an impressive effort in their last time out, a 17-point throttling of Northwestern on the road on Thursday.

Ohio State is riding a three-game losing streak into Sunday and hasn’t won a road game in more than a month.

Need to Know

Searching for third straight win in Ann Arbor

Despite all of Ohio State’s recent struggles, it could still accomplish a historic feat on Sunday afternoon. Having won the last two matchups in Ann Arbor, a 68-57 win last February and a three-point victory in early 2020, the Buckeyes could make it three straight wins on their archrival’s home floor. Ohio State hasn’t strung together such a streak in more than 50 years, when the Buckeyes won back-to-back-to-back-to-back games in Ann Arbor in 1967, ’68, ’69 and ’71.

Historically bad stretch for the Buckeyes

Ohio State has already endured its worst nine-game stretch under Chris Holtmann. With a loss on Sunday, the Buckeyes would have the poorest 10-game run of any Ohio State team since 1997-98. Jim O’Brien’s first Buckeye roster went 8-22 overall that season with a 17-game losing streak that spanned more than two months. No Ohio State team has dropped nine out of 10 games since, and the Buckeyes are in danger of doing so in Ann Arbor.

Michigan middle of the pack in most areas

Beyond a few of Michigan’s standout performers, not much about the Wolverines jumps off the stat sheet. Ranked 56th overall in KenPom, Michigan is 53rd in offensive efficiency and 67th on defense. In the Big Ten, Michigan is top eight in scoring, 3-point percentage and rebounds – but it ranks no higher than sixth in the conference in any of those categories. The Wolverines are second-to-last in the Big Ten with their average allowance of 69.5 points per game, as four of their past seven opponents have scored 75 or more points. Still, Michigan held Northwestern to its second-fewest points of the season on Thursday in an effort that highlights just how up and down the Wolverines have been this year.

Three Important Buckeyes

Brice Sensabaugh

Ohio State’s star freshman continues to be the only Buckeye consistently bringing high-level offensive performances to the table amid the team’s rough stretch. Sensabaugh has now led the Buckeyes in scoring for 13 consecutive games. On Thursday, though, Sensabaugh fouled out for the fourth time this season with nearly half of the final period left to play. Considering Ohio State only lost by five, it’s possible the Buckeyes could’ve completed their attempt at a comeback if their best scorer was on the floor. Sensabaugh must complement his scoring with sound defense and avoid foul trouble if Ohio State is going to win more games in the back half of the Big Ten schedule.

Zed Key

When Hunter Dickinson’s on the floor, it usually means bad things for opposing big men. The responsibility to slow down Michigan’s towering center falls chiefly on Key’s shoulders on Sunday, and that assignment would be tough enough even if he weren’t giving up five inches in height. A better offensive showing wouldn’t hurt either, as Key is only shooting 43.8% in the last nine games.

Sean McNeil

Ohio State’s only hit more than eight 3-pointers once in the past nine games, and the Buckeyes haven't knocked down double-digit attempts from long distance since Dec. 3. Getting hot from beyond the arc would go a long way in injecting some life into the Buckeye offense, and as Ohio State’s go-to 3-point shooter, McNeil needs to lead the way in that department. It’s now been six games since McNeil last hit more than two triples in a game, and he’s shot 25% from distance in the past three contests.

Three Important Wolverines

Hunter Dickinson

Dickinson has remained largely dominant in his third season with the Wolverines. The 7-foot-1 big man is top six in the Big Ten in both scoring (17.7 points per game) and rebounds (8.3). Dickinson’s shooting 54.8% from the floor, 38.2% from 3-point range and has seven 20-point performances under his belt in 2022-23. Dickinson’s dropped 30 or more on two occasions, including one game against Big Ten competition (Maryland). In three previous meetings with Ohio State, Dickinson’s averaged 19 points per game.

Player Position Height Weight  Season Stats
DUG MCDANIEL G 5-11 160 6.8 PPG, 3.8 APG
KOBE BUFKIN G 6-4 175 12.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG
JETT HOWARD G 6-8 215 14.6 PPG, 2.7 RPG
HUNTER DICKINSON C 7-1 255 17.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG

“It’s gonna start off with making him earn everything. He’s a good low-post scorer, he’s a good passer, he will pick and pop and shoot threes,” assistant coach Jack Owens said Friday. "So having a plan together to slow him down (is important). … They do a good job of spacing you out and trying to isolate him on the block. So it is going to start with Hunter, to make him earn everything he gets in the halfcourt setting and don’t allow him to have second-chance points or opportunities as well.”

Jett Howard

Juwan Howard’s son, Jett Howard has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s best freshmen in 2022-23. Jett Howard is second among Wolverines and 12th in the conference with his average of 14.6 points per game. The 6-foot-8 guard is only a few weeks removed from a monster 34-point explosion against Iowa in which he knocked down seven 3-pointers. Howard’s hitting 39.3% of his 6.9 3-point attempts per game, which gives Michigan an outside threat as dangerous as Dickinson is on the inside.

Kobe Bufkin

A top-50 overall prospect in the 2021 class, Bufkin has begun to realize his potential in year two with the Wolverines. After averaging just three points per game as a true freshman, the Michigan native has stepped into a full-time starting role as a sophomore and his increased production is evident. Bufkin’s putting up 12.2 points per game on 45.9% shooting with four boards and 2.9 assists to boot. When the Buckeyes arrive in Ann Arbor Sunday, the 6-foot-4 guard will be fresh off a near-triple double in which he scored 15 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and dished eight dimes against Northwestern.

How it Plays Out

Line: Michigan -2.5, O/U: 145.5

It’s hard to pick a Buckeye win right now, especially on the road. Ohio State has only one true road win all season, its Jan. 1 blowout over Northwestern, and even a similarly struggling Michigan team will make it hard for the Buckeyes to get a second on Sunday.

Prediction: Michigan 70, Ohio State 66

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