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January 12, 2013

Game Preview: Michigan at Ohio State

The Opponent: No. 15 Ohio State
Record: 12-3 (2-1 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Thad Matta (Ninth season, 233-68)
RPI: 39
All-time Series: Ohio State leads series 92-72
Time and Television: Jan. 13, 1:30 p.m., CBS

The No. 2 Wolverines (16-0, 3-0) aim to remain the only undefeated team in the country, and claim the No. 1 national ranking for the first time since 1992, when they travel to Columbus for a nationally-televised clash against No. 15 Ohio State.

Michigan has been a behemoth thus far in Big Ten play, outscoring conference foes by an average of 30.0 points per game. But the Buckeyes are currently riding an eight-game winning streak against "That School Up North" at Value City Arena, and have posted a 146-13 overall record at home during head coach Thad Matta's tenure.

One of the foremost storylines heading into the Sunday matinee battle revolves around the homecoming of U-M superstar sophomore point guard Trey Burke, who has cemented himself as a prime candidate to capture national player of the year honors. Burke is averaging 18.2 points and 7.3 assists per game this year, but the Columbus native will be countered by OSU junior point guard Aaron Craft.

Although Craft is not quite the offensive maestro that Burke is, the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year has consistently displayed the ability to change the game with his toughness and anticipation when the other team possesses the ball.

In three head-to-head matchups a year ago, Burke was held to only 11.6 points and 4.7 assists per game, and committed an uncharacteristic 5.3 turnovers per contest. Whether or not Craft can once again stymie the talented Maize and Blue court general could very well be the deciding factor of the game.

In terms of wing play, the Scarlet and Gray have relied heavily on the continued growth of junior guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr., who is averaging 10.7 points per game and is routinely trusted to shut down the opponent's top off-guard scorer. The 6-4 standout, who has started 54-consecutive games, will have his hands full stopping both junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. and freshman forward Glenn Robinson III, while also looking to add critical buckets on the offensive end.

Michigan's front court is talented, but still gelling as a unit, and will be tasked with containing the Big Ten's top scorer. Junior forward Deshaun Thomas has been an absolute offensive force both inside and outside for Ohio State this year, stockpiling 20.3 points per game and grabbing 6.8 boards. Despite his size and mobility, it is Thomas's ability to score from anywhere on the court that makes him such a difficult matchup - he ranks second in the Big Ten in three-point field goals (38) and 10th in three-point field goal percentage (.404).

The athleticism of Beilein's big men, particularly high-motor freshman forward Mitch McGary, will be key in slowing down the inside-outside game of OSU's top scorer, and should prove to be yet another definitive aspect of the contest.

By the Numbers

  • 1: Undefeated team remaining in the nation - Michigan (16-0).

  • 1-1: The Wolverines' record against the Buckeyes when ranked No. 2 in the AP poll; the Maize and Blue fell 86-85 Feb. 23, 1964 in Columbus and triumphed 78-68 on the road Jan. 4, 1986.

  • 3-6: U-M's all-time record against Ohio State with both ranked in the AP Poll.

  • 8.6: Rebounds per game snatched by redshirt junior Jordan Morgan in three conference games, including a career-best 13 against Northwestern and 11 against Nebraska.

  • 16: Consecutive games Trey Burke has notched a double-digit point total this season.

  • 26-52: Michigan's all-time record in Columbus

  • 60.0 percent: Junior forward Deshaun Thomas's career field goal percentage against U-M. He leads all current OSU players in averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in the series.

    Prediction

    Ohio State is a battle-tested bunch, with its three losses coming at home against No. 6 Kansas, and on the road against No. 12 Illinois and No. 1 Duke. Still, the Buckeyes haven't ousted a top-25 team this season, and moral victories are far from acceptable in Columbus.

    Value City Arena will be an absolute madhouse all afternoon, which is why the even-keel demeanor of Burke will be integral in weathering the early storm of a talented and motivated OSU team in an amped-up environment. An early run by the Wolverines to subside the chaos wouldn't hurt, either.

    This one will go back and forth, but U-M's superior depth and shooting ability win-out, barely.

    Final Score: Michigan 72, Ohio State 68


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