Columbus, OH (Sports Network) - Two of the Big Ten's best are set for a Sunday afternoon showdown, as the second-ranked Michigan Wolverines battle the 15th- ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at Value City Arena.
Michigan is off to the second-best start in program history, and with one more victory, it will match the 1985-86 team's record of 17-0. With No. 1 Duke losing on Saturday to NC State, the Wolverines are the lone unbeaten team in Division I. This bout marks the team's second against a nationally-ranked opponent this season, as it knocked off the same Wolfpack squad that just dropped Duke at home on Nov. 18, 79-72, although since their meetings, both Pittsburgh and Kansas State have made appearances in the Top-25.
The Wolverines moved to 3-0 in conference play on Jan. 9 with a 62-47 victory over Nebraska. They had seen better days shooting the ball (.389 FG percentage), but they were able to cruise to the double-digit win behind a fantastic defensive effort, as they held the Cornhuskers below 34 percent shooting from the floor. After putting up 19 points and 12 assists in the Jan. 6 win over Iowa, Trey Burke followed that up with an 18-point effort against Nebraska and was named the Big Ten Player of the Week. Tim Hardaway, Jr. logged a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, Glenn Robinson III chipped in 14 points, and Nik Stauskas finished with 13.
Ohio State started the season as the nation's No. 4 team, but it has tumbled in the rankings due to losses to top-flight teams in Duke (73-68), Kansas (74-66) and Illinois (74-55). It has been impressive at home, winning nine of 10 matchups in Columbus.
The Buckeyes embarked on a two-game road trip last week, and they avenged their Jan. 5 loss to Illinois by claiming a 74-64 win over Purdue on Jan. 8, where they got out to a 10-point halftime lead and never looked back. They shot a lofty 55.6 percent from the field, paced by a 22-point effort by Deshaun Thomas. Aaron Craft (15 points) and Evan Ravenel (11 points) were also highly productive, while Lenzelle Smith, Jr. grabbed 10 rebounds and Shannon Scott dished out eight assists.
Ohio State owns a 98-73 advantage in the all-time series with its bitter rival, and the two teams split a pair of meetings in 2011-12, with each winning on its home floor.
Michigan has played outstanding at both ends of the floor, as it ranks behind only Indiana in the Big Ten in scoring (80.8 ppg) while holding opponents more than 20 lower (58.8 ppg). Burke is undoubtedly one of the nation's best guards, as he shoots better than 53 percent from the field for 18.2 ppg, while leading the league in assists with 7.3 per contest. Hardaway, Jr. is a fantastic second option, putting up 16.3 ppg, and Stauskas (13.5 ppg) has made 46 3-pointers at an astounding 52.3 percent clip. Robinson III rounds out the balanced scoring attack with 12.6 ppg, and he also grabs a team-high 6.1 rpg. The Wolverines take great care of the basketball, turning it over fewer than 10 times per outing.
While it hasn't nearly been as dominant as Michigan, Ohio State too has built its reputation on the back of both an impressive scoring offense (75.7 ppg) and a pretty stingy scoring defense (58.1 ppg), and as a result it owns the league's third-best scoring margin of plus-17.7. The majority of the team's production at the offensive end has come from Thomas, who serves as the Big Ten's top scorer at 20.3 ppg. Thomas shoots 47.2 percent from the field overall, which includes a 40.4 percent showing from beyond the arc, and he grabs a team-high 6.8 rpg as well. Smith, Jr. pitches in with 10.7 ppg and 5.5 rpg, while Craft (8.9 ppg) and Scott (6.1 ppg) have combined for more than nine assists and nearly four steals per contest.