ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Sunday’s game between Michigan and Ohio State is being called one of the best games of the year in college basketball, and for good reason.
Michigan entered the game as the No. 3 team in the country, and Ohio State was No. 4. Both teams executed at a high level offensively and played with great tempo. The result was an entertaining, back-and-forth game that stayed within six points until the final minute.
Michigan and Ohio State aren’t scheduled to meet again this season, but they could potentially match up in next month’s Big Ten Tournament (or the NCAA Tournament, though at much worse odds).
If there is a rematch, pretty much the entire college basketball world would tune in, hoping to see a repeat of the down-to-the-wire battle in Columbus.
But in reality, there are plenty of reasons to believe the game wouldn’t be quite the same.
Here are six differences to expect if the two teams do meet in Indianapolis.
Michigan’s 3-point shooting
If it hadn’t been for a 1-for-10 second half from beyond the arc, Michigan’s three-point shooting would have been the main takeaway from Sunday’s game.
In the first half, Michigan countered half a dozen Ohio State runs with timely three-point makes. When the teams hit the locker room, the Wolverines had hit 10 of their 13 attempts from beyond the arc.
The final rate of 11-for-23 is much more realistic, but it’s still 9.1% higher than Michigan’s season-long percentage.
Surprise shooting contributions
One of the reasons this Michigan team is off to a 16-1 start is the deep arsenal of offensive weapons at Juwan Howard’s disposal.
All five of Michigan’s starters are legitimate scoring threats, and Chaundee Brown, Austin Davis and Brandon Johns can’t be ignored off the bench, either.
But on Sunday, both Brown and Eli Brooks made three of four three-point attempts and combined for 32 points on 11-for-17 shooting.
Neither Brooks nor Brown are averaging 10 points per game this season, and they’re certainly not shooting over 50% from the floor.
Part of the reason for their success was the quality of looks generated by Michigan’s offense, but that type of efficiency isn’t likely to be replicated often, especially from the team’s fifth and sixth scoring options.
Critical Ohio State turnover
One play doesn’t make-or-break a game, and it’s not typically worthy of saying something like a turnover or one strange play wouldn’t happen again. But Justice Sueing’s behind-the-back pass to nobody was such a critical and uncharacteristic error for the Buckeyes.
Michigan held a three-point lead with 2:37 to play when Sueing bounced the ball behind his back out on the arc. Neither of his nearby teammates were expecting the pass, and the ball dribbled feebly toward mid-court before Livers picked it up and got an east fast-break layup.
Sueing made matters even worse by fouling Livers and making it a three-point play.
Based on how the game was going, Ohio State could have easily tied the game or cut Michigan’s lead to one point on that possession. Instead, Michigan led by six and never looked back.
If these teams play another close game, Michigan would probably have to work a little harder to force such a turning point.
C.J. Walker jumpers
Two-point or mid-range jump shots aren’t very common in today’s college basketball. Teams typically want to get to the rim or spread the floor with three-point shooters.
Well, C.J. Walker was a bit of an outlier in that regard Sunday, taking five mid-range jumpers off the dribble and making four of them.
Walker is a good player, but he’s not going to shoot 80% on jump shots very often, especially against one of the best perimeter defenses in the country. Most of those shot attempts were either fading away or at least partially contested, but Walker nearly made them all.
Ohio State’s 3-point shooting
It sure didn’t feel like it because of Michigan’s extremely hot start and extremely cold finish, but Ohio State actually ended up shooting better from beyond the arc.
The Buckeyes made 11 of 22 three-point attempts, including 8-for-15 combined from E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington.
Now, Liddell and Washington are Ohio State’s star players, so it’s not unusual to see them combine for a high point total (though 53 might be on the high-end). But neither of them shoots 40% from beyond the arc this season, so to make more than half of their attempts against a strong defensive team — let’s just say that’s unlikely to be replicated.
Officiating is a hot topic across college hoops this season because refs are clearly trying to work their way through the difference between a block and a charge, as well as flopping — two rules that are hopelessly intertwined.
By my count, there were nine such block/charge situations in Sunday’s Michigan-Ohio State game that probably could have gone either way. In these seven individual instances, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see either a block or a charge called.
But over the court of a 40-minute game, especially with so many 50-50 type plays, you would expect those calls to more or less even out. There might be an egregious miss here or a questionable call there, but when the final buzzer sounds one team would probably benefit from four or five of those nine calls, on average.
Here are the nine instances I counted during Sunday’s game, along with what was (or wasn’t) called:
13:17 left in first half: Isaiah Livers fast break collision — charge called on Livers.
4:38 left in first half: Seth Towns drive to the basket on Mike Smith — block called on Smith, Towns given the basket plus a foul.
4:18 left in first half: Liddell bumped by Austin Davis on a drive — block called on Davis, Liddell made two free throws.
1:46 left in first half: Franz Wagner dribbling in the lane — charge called on Wagner.
0:40 left in first half: Hunter Dickinson dribbling on the baseline — charge called on Dickinson.
14:23 left in second half: Sueing collision in the paint with Brooks — block called on Brooks, Sueing given the basket plus a foul.
13:36 left in second half: Liddell dribbling in the lane — charge called on Liddell.
4:38 left in second half: Duane Washington possible push-off at the top of the key — no foul called, flop warning given to Brooks.
4:01 left in second half: Walker collides with Smith along the arc — blocking foul called on Smith, Walker given 1-and-1 free throws.
As you can see, the only call that went in Michigan’s favor of these nine was the charge called on Liddell early in the second half. It’s hard to say whether any of these calls were actually incorrect on an individual basis, but if the two teams meet again, it’s statistically unlikely that eight of the nine would go in favor of one side.
Overall, the officiating in the game was very even before Ohio State started intentionally fouling with 37.7 seconds left to extend the game.
Before that point, Ohio State had been called for 12 fouls and Michigan had been called for 13 fouls. Ohio State had converted 12 of 13 free-throw attempts, and Michigan had converted 11 of 14 free-throw attempts.
In the final 37.7 seconds, Ohio State committed five fouls intentionally, and Michigan made eight of 10 free throws.
What does this mean?
If Michigan and Ohio State meet again, it’s almost a guarantee (barring overtime) to be a lower-scoring game.
Ohio State and Michigan both have top 10 offenses, but they vastly outperformed their shooting percentages overall, beyond the arc and at the free-throw line. The only
So if they meet again, I would obviously expect the game to be a bit lower scoring. Ohio State probably played a little bit closer to its best game Sunday, and also had the advantage of home court. But revenge factor would have to be factored in, too.
The frantic back-and-forth pace also contributed to the high score, and if any team jumped out to a more sizable lead, the game probably wouldn’t move quite as quickly.
Both of these teams can beat anybody in the country on a good day, but Ohio State probably played a little closer to its best-case scenario on Sunday, especially considering it was done against Michigan’s No. 11-ranked defense (per Kenpom).
A second meeting would also be on a neutral court in Indianapolis, erasing Ohio State’s home court advantage. Though the absence of fans minimizes that advantage, it still exists to a certain degree.
Michigan would have to contend with the revenge factor, though. Look no further than the second Minnesota game to see how that can change a matchup.
Maybe the rivalry simply brings out the best in these two teams and they would light up the scoreboard again. But strictly from an analytical standpoint, the score was a little higher than we should expect, and the score might have been a little closer, too.