Michigan is going to the Big Ten Championship game for the first time since 1998.
The Wolverines looked unstoppable at times against Ohio State, but they were far from perfect. Michigan scored 37 points in its first 24 possessions – a ridiculous 1.54 points per possession – and looked poised to runaway with a semifinal win.
But whenever the Wolverines looked ready to pull away, the Buckeyes hung around. Ohio State answered every Michigan run with a run of its own. The Wolverines led by 16 points midway through the first half, but Ohio State cut the lead to four at the half. Michigan extended the lead back to 12 in the second half, but the Buckeyes came all the way back and took a three-point lead with 4:12 to play in the second half.
In winning time Michigan went to its sophomores and Ohio State went back to Aaron Craft, who sat on the bench for nearly nine minutes after picking up his fourth foul.
Nik Stauskas made a 20-foot contested jumper to cut Ohio State’s lead to one. A minute and a half later, he made a ridiculous up-and-under layup to give Michigan a three point lead.
On the other end of the floor, Craft missed a pair of free throws and an unguarded three as the Buckeye offense sputtered.
But the biggest play of the game wasn’t a dunk, step-back jumper or highlight layup, it was Caris LeVert crashing the glass to rebound a Stauskas miss with the Wolverines leading 71-69 with 13 seconds to play. Spike Albrecht split a pair of free throws to extend the lead to three and Craft’s desperation final attempt slipped out of his hands before the final horn.
In the end, this was Michigan’s fifth best shooting performance of the season. The Wolverines actually shot the ball better in wins over Illinois, Purdue and Nebraska this year. Michigan finishes the season with the two best offensive performances against the Buckeyes – 1.19 points per trip in Columbus, and 1.14 points per trip today. Michigan was lights out from three-point range in the first half and finished 12-of-23 from long-range for the game.
There were frustrating moments – Michigan turned the ball over on 19% of its possessions which led to 20 Ohio State points off of turnovers – but this was a strong offensive performance against the third-best defense in the country. Michigan did a great job of getting to the free throw line – 19 free throw attempts to 47 field goal attempts – but couldn’t convert on the freebies. The Wolverines shot 78% on free throws in Big Ten play, best in the conference, but were just 10-of-19 at the stripe.
This was a strong offensive performance against the third-best defense in the country
Michigan’s offense is clicking at the right time. I would argue that Michigan has only been ‘out-scored’ only once this season, versus Arizona at home. Other than that , the Wolverines are 24-1 when they manage at least 1.06 points per possession. When Michigan’s offense is stopped, held below 1.06 points per trip, the Wolverines are just 1-6. This isn’t a team that’s going to lose many shootouts, even with a lackluster defense, but it’s a team that can’t win if it doesn’t score.
Perhaps the most frustrating element of Michigan’s offensive effort was its inability to inbound the ball on stationary out-of-bounds sets. Ohio State is great at defending these sets, but the Wolverines had at least two turnovers and had to burn numerous timeouts because of their inability to inbound the ball.
The Wolverines continue to underwhelm defensively. Ohio State scored 1.09 points per trip, well above its Big Ten average of 1.03 points per trip. Shannon Scott had his best game in a long time with 18 points on 7-of-10 (4-6 3pt) shooting with six assists, but it’s tough to blame Michigan for some of that. The scouting report was obviously to play off of him and make him beat you with the three, on this night he did. Michigan experimented with both the 1-3-1 zone, which forced turnovers but also gave up corner threes and a huge alley-oop to Sam Thompson, and the 2-3 zone. We haven’t seen any 2-3 zone from Michigan in a while, and it wasn’t that effective.
This was Michigan’s first win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament and the Wolverines will face Michigan State at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. The 1-seed appears to be a very real possibility as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi moved the Wolverines up to the No. 1 line after beating Ohio State.
- Nik Stauskas: Stauskas hit plenty of player-of-the-year-type shots and finished with 18 points on 6-of-12 (4-8 3pt) shooting. For whatever reason, he kind of drifted out of the offense in the middle of the second half, but he bounced back down the stretch with a couple of big makes. Stauskas has also seemed to be getting in ball screen situations more effectively than he did earlier in the season and is locked in shooting, or dribbling off the high screen or hand-off.
- Caris LeVert: LeVert did a lot of things right, but his inability to inbound the ball has been maddening in the last two games. Beyond that, LeVert has developed into an incredible weapon for the Wolverines. He finished with 17 points on 6-of-9 (2-4 3pt) shooting with eight rebounds (one massive offensive board) and two steals. LeVert also knocked down a pair of mid-range jumpers which is encouraging because he’s struggled with that shot this season.
- Derrick Walton: Early in the season, Walton deferred quite a bit. He’s being aggressive when he’s on the floor now and that leads in some mistakes (3 turnovers) but plenty of bright spots as well. Walton was 3-of-6 from the floor for 8 points with 5 rebounds, four assists and two steals. He turned the ball over three times, but still acquitted himself nicely in a tough matchup
- Glenn Robinson III: Robinson is peaking at the right time for Michigan. His stat line looks innocuous enough, 11 points on 4-of-8 (1-2 2pt) shooting with two rebounds, three steals and two blocks, but he’s doing the right things offensively and looks confident. Robinson has hit a three in Michigan’s last four games after not hitting threes in consecutive since early January against Nebraska and Penn State. He’s not falling in love with the shot either, he’s using it to open up the isolation drive – something he’s doing better than he has all season.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan did everything except make free throws. He finished with 8 points, five rebounds and three assists in 30 minutes. He anchored Michigan’s defense, finished around the basket and showed great patience when he caught the ball in the post which led to some great assists. The 2-of-7 at the free throw line is something that Morgan will want to forget quickly.
- Spike Albrecht: Albrecth made a handful of opportunistic defensive plays, including a steal of LaQuinton Ross in transition and drawing a charge on Craft, but he was just 1-of-4 from the floor.
- Zak Irvin: Irvin just loves shooting the right wing three and he buried two triples on three attempts today. He’s a great weapon off the bench because other teams have to account for his three-point shot whenever he’s on the floor.
- Jon Horford: Horford struggled in the quarterfinal, but I thought he took a step in the right direction against Ohio State. He had a quiet stat line, 0-1 with 1 rebound, but seemed to rotate a little better on the floor.