Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes travel to Ann Arbor for a game with Michigan. It will be a battle for the Big Ten lead. The Buckeyes are 10-3, tied for first with Michigan State with the Wolverines just behind at 9-4.
Playing with first place in the Big Ten on the line has gotten to be old hat for the Buckeyes. Virtually every game they’ve played lately has been with a conference contender, and for the most part — that is, with the noticeable exception of a rank performance at home against Michigan State — the Buckeyes have performed well under pressure.
The conventional wisdom is that playing lots of high-pressure games is a positive. The Buckeyes now have many players who’ve made key free throws, clutch buckets, and important defensive plays with crucial games on the line and in hostile arenas. When you reach the one-and-done point of the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament, it’s nice to have that kind of big-game experience to fall back on.
Michigan presents another tough challenge. The Wolverines are undefeated at home this season and their Big Ten record shows they are a good team. In their first game, the Buckeyes shut down Zack Novak, Tim Hardaway, Jr. struggled with his shot, and the Buckeyes pulled away in the second half to win 64-49. Tonight Aaron Craft will have to guard Michigan’s excellent point guard Trey Burke without getting into foul trouble and the Buckeyes will have to figure out how to score against the zone defense that the Wolverines are likely to play at some point during the game. We’ll also be watching to see how Coach Thad Matta substitutes and whether freshman center Amir Williams gets some court time after a good showing against Minnesota.
Games like tonight’s contest will help to toughen up the Buckeyes, regardless of the outcome. Since the opponent this evening is the hated Team Up North, let’s hope the outcome is a big win that allows the Buckeyes to take another step toward the Big Ten regular season championship.