Busting Brackets

Ohio State vs. Michigan: 2020-21 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Mar 1, 2020; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Isaiah Livers (2) steals the ball from Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) during the first half at Value City Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2020; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Isaiah Livers (2) steals the ball from Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) during the first half at Value City Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports /

Two top-five squads out of the Big Ten in the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes will meet in a highly-anticipated showdown.

TV schedule: Sunday, February 21st, 1:00 pm ET. CBS

Arena: Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio

In what could be the most anticipated game of the 2020-21 regular season, the third-ranked Michigan Wolverines will travel to Columbus to take on the fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes – in a game that has implications in the Big Ten and on the national level.

The Wolverines (15-1) enter just their third tilt off of their extensive COVID-19 pause, and – despite the long layoff – have looked the part of a national contender.  Michigan kicked off its return with a comeback win over Wisconsin last Sunday, overcoming a 12-point halftime deficit en route to a 67-59 victory – before handling Rutgers just days later on Thursday, 71-64.

If Michigan’s recent success can be tied to any set of players, it can be traced to the three-man tandem of Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, and Hunter Dickinson.  Livers scored a game-high 20 points against Wisconsin while dishing out three assists and blocking three shots against Rutgers, Wagner had back-to-back double-digit games with 14 and 20, respectively, and Dickinson has reemerged as a force inside, tallying double-figures in both games – as well as a mark of 15 rebounds and five blocks against the Badgers.

During the two-game stretch, Livers is averaging 13.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, Wagner is recording marks of 17.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists, and Dickinson has been a force inside on 10.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks.  As a team, the Wolverines have thrived on second-chance points, outscoring Wisconsin and Rutgers by a combined 33-14 margin – as well as beyond the arc offensively and defensively, shooting 40.6% (13-32) while holding their last two foes to 29.0% (9-31).

The Buckeyes (18-4), meanwhile, have been on a tear since their January 19th loss to Purdue, ripping off seven-straight wins – including an impressive 89-85 win at Iowa to start off the month.  Most recently, Ohio State has rallied for back-to-back double-digit wins, dismantling Indiana by 19 before coming out on top in an offensive showdown at Penn State, 92-82.

Four different players averaging over 9.5 points per game has translated to balanced scoring for the Buckeyes in their last two tilts, with four different players – E.J. Liddell, Duane Washington Jr., CJ Walker, and Justice Sueing – reaching double-digits against Indiana, and the former three doing just that at Penn State.

Liddell and Washington have been the offensive architects of an Ohio State crew that is averaging 1.275 points per possession in its last two games, with Liddell averaging 21.0 points on a 12-24 (50%) FG clip and a 10-13 (76.9%) FT clip in the last two outings.  In that same time frame, Washington is maintaining marks of 16.5 points on 10-17 (58.8%) shooting and a perfect 7-7 mark from the charity stripe.

Much of Ohio State’s success in their last two tilts cannot be traced to the defensive end so much as it can be the offensive end – which should be no surprise, given the Buckeyes are averaging 85 points in their last two tilts.  Despite allowing Indiana and Penn State to shoot 43.6% from the floor, the Buckeyes are a blistering 52.3% from the floor – and have also thrived at the charity stripe, going 38-45 (84.4%) on freebies.

Ohio State will need their stellar offense to come through against the Wolverines, considering Michigan is the best defensive team in the Big Ten.  Holding teams to a league-best 62.8 points, the Wolverines allow teams to shoot just 41.1% inside the arc and 31.2% from the perimeter – and they hold Big Ten foes to just 14.1 free-throw attempts per game.

What will be, arguably, the most intriguing match-up to watch on the floor is just how the Buckeyes and Liddell will handle the resurging Dickinson inside.  No player on Michigan’s roster takes a higher percentage of their shots than the 7-1 Dickinson – which could create issues for an Ohio State squad that does not feature a single Buckeye over 6-8.  That is even without mentioning Wagner, who comes in at 6-9.

Michigan vs. Ohio State key storylines. dark. Next

This will be the most stout defense Ohio State has faced all year – but their offense is primed to get hot from the get-go.  What they cannot allow, however, is the Wolverines to rally and storm back like they have proven in their previous tilts – all the while locking the Buckeyes down.  Michigan’s resilience to overcome Ohio State’s stellar offense – and the effectiveness of Dickinson – may ultimately be the deciding factor in this tilt, and what could propel them to victory.

Prediction: Michigan 78 – Ohio State 75