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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 12:03 AM

A week ago today, Ohio State was outplayed, out-toughed, outclassed, and outcoached by Michigan State in a nationally televised game you probably watched on ESPN. Tonight, that network’s GameDay crew is in Ann Arbor, Michigan to see if Ohio State’s archrival Michigan can inflict another upset on the possibly overrated Buckeyes.

Ohio State’s poor play last week raised a lot of questions. Does Jared Sullinger have the composure to hang tough when things start going against him? Does the Ohio State coaching staff do anything more than just send the guys out there and hope they can win? Sullinger kept running into brick walls and having the ball stolen from him…with nobody during one of their worst offensive debacles in school history thinking “maybe we should try something different.” Great talent can win on its own vs. lesser teams…but it takes more when you go to war against top notch competition.

Here’s a quick review of Ohio State’s recent Big Dance performances:

*Last year, the Buckeyes lost in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky even though they were expected to make it all the way to the Final Four as a #1 seed. Many pundits picked Ohio State to win the whole tournament. Yet, they fell to the first major conference opponent they faced.

*Two years ago, the Buckeyes lost in the Sweet 16 to Tennessee even though they were seeded to reach the Elite Eight. Ohio State was a #2 seed that many were picking to go the distance.

*Three years ago, the Buckeyes lost in the first round to Siena.

The further the Greg Oden era drifts away in the record books, the more clear it seems that this team uses great recruiting to create illusions during the regular season that don’t get exposed until crunch time.

Last week’s game vs. Michigan State qualified as crunch time since the Big 10 lead was on the line. Tonight’s game does as well, as it comes on the road against an overlooked Wolverine’s squad that’s actually third in the current conference standings.


Michigan State 10-3

Ohio State 10-3

Michigan 9-4

Wisconsin 8-5

Indiana 8-6

Purdue 7-6

Yes, ESPN spent the year telling you how great Wisconsin was going to be. They keep running commercials featuring that Indiana bucket that stunned Kentucky. They keep telling you how gutty Purdue is. But…it’s MICHIGAN that currently sits above all of those teams in the league standings. Should the Wolverines spring a home upset Saturday Night, they would tie the Buckeyes at 10-4.

By the way…sitting at 5-8 are Minnesota and Illinois, Northwestern, and Iowa. There’s been an expectation all year that EIGHT teams from the Big 10 would reach the Big Dance. Right now, only six have winning records in conference play. It’s going to be tough to let somebody into the brackets who went 7-11 in conference action. Minnesota and Illinois better start getting some results!

We’ve spent a lot of time this season looking at the respected computer ratings from Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin. If we’re going to blast ESPN for hyping fading Big Ten games, we may have to blast those guys too! Big pre-conference wins still weigh heavily in the ranking process…even if many teams don’t seem to be playing to earlier levels.


Ohio State (2nd in Pomeroy, 2nd in Sagarin)

Michigan State (3rd in Pomeroy, 5th in Sagarin)

Wisconsin (6th in Pomeroy, 8th in Sagarin)

Indiana (12th in Pomeroy, 9th in Sagarin)

Michigan (24th in Pomeroy, 24th in Sagarin)

Purdue (31st in Pomeroy, 32nd in Sagarin)

Sorry…the Wisconsin team that’s taken the floor the past few weeks may not even be top 20 at this point. They weren’t competitive with Michigan State Thursday Night even with the Spartans in a letdown spot off Ohio State. Ohio State lost by TEN at HOME to Michigan State, and didn’t make any serious runs in the second half. Yet, they still rank ahead of the Spartans.

Michigan ranks just fifth in the computers…and a relatively distant fifth given the numbers for the first four. Are the standings right…and they’re really third best? Or, will a bad home loss to Ohio State on national TV send the Wolverines reeling back to the second division? Let’s check our standard preview stats…


Ohio State: 1st

Michigan: 45th

Can’t argue about Ohio State’s defense. Nothing wrong on that side of the floor in the wrestling match loss to Michigan State. The Wolverines play a slow tempo, which creates some illusions of great defense with people who don’t know how to read stats. Just in terms of sitting in a halfcourt and stopping people, Ohio State rates the edge here once you adjust for tempo and quality of opposition.


Ohio State: 13th

Michigan: 25th

Ohio State is one of those teams that looks GREAT when the three’s are falling, or when they can bully undersized post players. The three’s aren’t falling as well this year as they were last year. And, you saw what happened last week against an opponent who wouldn’t be intimidated inside. So, Ohio State is arguably a top five offense vs. weak defenses…but much worse off than you’re realize against teams who play real defense. This is going to be a problem in the Big Dance because they’re going to face some real defenses who saw the game footage from MSU. Does Michigan play real defense? Tonight’s results will answer that question.


Ohio State: 89th

Michigan: 325th

This is what we were talking about with Michigan playing at a slow pace. Make that VERY SLOW! The Wolverines are one of the slowest teams in the country, which creates the illusion of fantastic defense if you’re only scoreboard watching. Remember when everyone used to say Princeton played great defense when they were taking the air out of the ball. Same kind of story here in the modern age. Holding the ball for 25 seconds isn’t defense. Stopping the other guy when they have the ball is defense.

It’s worth noting that Michigan saw last week what happens when you can clog down Ohio State in the mud. Michigan loves the mud! If they can body up Sullinger, and send in their guards to swipe the ball…we could see a replay of last week’s result. Ohio State will get frustrated. They won’t get the calls they expect (good luck wooing the refs in Ann Arbor). And, Michigan climbs out of the elimination chamber with a win.

Just remember that these teams played before. Ohio State won 64-49 at home…which is actually a one-sided blowout when only 113 points went on the board. Home court turnaround will mean something. But, will it mean enough for a Wolverines upset? Will it be enough to at least get a home dog cover?

JIM HURLEY may or may not be stepping out in this big TV game. It’s definitely on the short list of possibilities for the weekly TV Triple Crown, along with Marquette-Connecticut, UCLA-St. John’s, Arizona-Washington, Clemson-North Carolina, Florida-Arkansas, Dayton-Xavier, Notre Dame-Villanova, and the Bracket Buster games on ESPN2. Did we say short list? There are a lot of interesting TV matchups Saturday!

Game day releases will be posted Saturday morning well before the first tip. You can purchase those with your credit card online. If you’re ready to commit to seasonal service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. We have great rates that take you through MARCH MADNESS, or through the NBA PLAYOFFS.

Back late Saturday to talk about “Linsanity” in time for Sunday’s early start for the Knicks and Mavericks on ABC. We cover the sporting world from a handicapping perspective, so make sure you’re with us EVERY DAY!


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