Basketball

Buckeyes Need to Play ‘Very Best’ Against Elite Wolverines

The No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (18-4, 12-4) host No. 3 Michigan (15-1, 10-1) Sunday at 1:00 pm in what is expected to be one of the games of the year in the Big Ten.

This will be the first matchup of the year between the two teams. Both squads were in action Thursday evening, which makes this a very quick turnaround for such an important game.

Along with game planning, OSU head coach Chris Holtmann has a recipe of hydration, nutrition, recovery, and sleep designed for his players. The recovery will be essential, as his squad is pretty banged up right now. Forward Seth Towns left Thursday’s game at Penn State, but should be okay. They’ll know more about his availability today. Fellow forward Kyle Young will also require some time off before Sunday’s game, which has become customary as the senior has dealt with leg issues for so much of his career.

But considering what this game means, it’s going to be difficult to keep anybody from suiting up. This is an opportunity for Ohio State to further show what they can do, and it’s not necessarily even about showing those on the outside, but finding out on the inside just what they’re capable of doing this year.

“I think you love that about playing really good people. I think you love that,” Holtmann said on Friday. “I mean we learned stuff in last night’s game [at Penn State]. But I think you obviously really appreciate that experience to learn kind of where you’re at as a team right now as well. Last year we played a couple times and we both had really in some ways similar seasons. Great non-conferences. We stubbed our toes both a little bit in league play early, and then got in a good rhythm towards the closing stretch and I think we were both going to be around four or five or six seed. They were good last year. They’ve taken it up a notch this year for sure.”

Holtmann is correct in his assessment of Michigan’s notch-making this year. The Wolverines have lost just once this season, a 75-57 stumble at Minnesota a month ago. They’ve had a number of games postponed due to positive COVID tests, but the product they’ve put on the court can stand on it own.

Michigan has three frontcourt players in center Hunter Dickinson (14.6 ppg), and wings Isaiah Livers (14.5 ppg) and Franz Wagner (12.6 ppg) who are all scoring over 12 points per game and capable of doubling that on any given night. They also have three guards scoring over 8.0 points per game.

The Wolverines have size and enough experience that nothing seems all that new to them anymore. And along with so any scoring options, they are also one of the best defensive teams in America. Put it all together and Holtmann can’t help but praise his rivals.

“They have a tremendous program. They have for a number of years now,” Holtmann said. “Again, [head coach] Juwan [Howard} has done a phenomenal job. [Former coach] John [Beilein] did a phenomenal job, clearly. It’s just a tremendous program. I’ve got great respect for them. We’re gonna need to play our very best. And I’m excited about this because we’ve got a group that I think really embraces the idea of playing the very best. And we’re excited about the challenge. I know our guys are.”

Ohio State has already proven to be pretty good this year. Successive road wins at ranked opponents Rutgers, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa showed that quite well. But this Michigan program looks to be different than all the rest. And really, that’s how Ohio State should always see them.

Ohio State and Michigan aren’t just rivals on the gridiron. Where would the fun in that be? And why should others be left out?

Sunday’s 1:00 pm tip off at the Schottenstein Center won’t just be a game between the No. 3 and No. 4 team in the nation. More importantly than that, it will simply be Ohio State vs. Michigan.

“Listen, I recognize being here my fourth year what this rivalry is. And it really is a rivalry across every sport here, but I recognize what it is and what it means,” Holtmann said.

“We understand what The Game in football is, and I recognize the importance of that to our fan base. It’s important to our players. And I think the best way to honor a rivalry is to respect it for what it is, and to try to bring your best competitive stuff to it. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.”