The Ohio State men’s basketball team (6-3, 1-0 Big Ten) has wind in its sails as it prepares to square off against its arch-rival Michigan (7-2, 1-0 Big Ten) in the Schottenstein Center Monday at 6:30 p.m.
The Buckeyes came away with their first signature win of the season Saturday in an 83-58 blowout of Wisconsin (3-5, 0-1 Big Ten) in Madison, Wisconsin.
This game against Michigan will round out what has been a challenging slate of games for the Buckeyes. They will finish a stretch of six games in two weeks, having already played against then-No. 17 Gonzaga, Stanford, Butler, Clemson and Wisconsin.
The team lost three of the games over that stretch, including blowing back-to-back double-digit leads to Butler and Clemson, respectively, but head coach Chris Holtmann said he believes the commanding win against Wisconsin was a confidence boost for a team that started to lose momentum.
“We’ll see how we finish this stretch, but certainly I’m pleased with how we responded [Saturday] and then we’ll see if we can just continue to build off of it really into the coming weeks,” Holtmann said.
Ohio State will be transitioning from facing a team that possessed more gerth and started two forwards in Wisconsin and three guards to a taller, slightly lankier team that starts just one forward and four guards in Michigan.
Though the Wolverines are not as heavy as the starting five for the Badgers, they possess the higher rebound margin with 1.2 compared to Wisconsin’s minus-1 margin.
Offensively, every starter on the team has proven capable of knocking down 3-pointers. Though junior guard Duncan Robinson leads the team with 22 successful makes in 61 tries from beyond the arc, all six of the players who have started for Michigan have at least 20 attempts and 10 makes from 3-point range. Michigan has attempted the 15th-most 3-pointers in the nation (246) and drained the 20th-most (87).
On the other side of the court, Michigan has proven to be among the most vaunted defenses in the nation. Its 62.4 points per game allowed is 29th-fewest in the nation, and its 66 steals rank 42nd-most.
Holtmann views Michigan as a lock for the NCAA Tournament already at this early stage in the season and a team that will provide Ohio State with plenty of challenges in its attempt to end this stretch of games on a high note.
“Their ability to spread you out, to make shots, to play downhill in transition, to play inside-out and their length,” Holtmann said. “They’ve got good size, good positional length. They’re just across the board a really complete team that’s no question one of the best teams we’ve played all year.”
A key matchup in the game will come down to the battle at center between Michigan forward Moritz Wagner and Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson. Wagner leads Michigan in points per game (15.6) and rebounds per game (8.4) while serving as the team’s lone starting big man. Wesson, on the other hand, has been filling in at center for injured center Micah Potter.
Since becoming the starter, Wesson has double-digit points in four of the five games, including a career-high 19 his last time out against Wisconsin.
Holtmann said Wesson has done everything asked of him so far and has held his own against some tough matchups. Starting opposite Wagner, a player Holtmann described as a “future NBA player,” he will have to continue to prove he is ready for this next challenge in his true freshman season.
“There’s things we feel like he can continue to improve in, but man he’s given a great lift coming in with obviously the injury and the depth issues we have there,” Holtmann said.
Micah Potter health update:
Wesson will have to continue his strong play at center for the Buckeyes because Potter will be out a little longer. Holtmann said Sunday that Potter’s ankle injury, though not from season-ending, is probably going to force the team to temporarily shut down the sophomore for the foreseeable future until he can fully heal.
“He wants to get back. We desperately want him back in the lineup and we need him. He was obviously playing really well before he got hurt,” Holtmann said. “But with ankles, it may be the right thing to just kind of let it heal, limit anything he does until he is completely confident in his strength.”
Ohio State has been largely without its starting center for the better part of the past five games. During the team’s fourth game of the season, Potter injured his ankle and was forced to leave the game having played in only 13 minutes. He missed the next game against then-No. 17 Gonzaga. Against Stanford and Butler, he played in just 10 minutes combined and missed all of the game against Clemson. He played just three minutes against Wisconsin.