Tonight, the Ohio State Buckeyes will face the Michigan Wolverines in hostile territory. The last time these two teams faced off was in The Schott on January 29, nearly three weeks ago. When the Wolverines were in Columbus, the Buckeyes had a few problems in the beginning, but ended up winning 64-49.
One of the major reasons for the Buckeyes success over that team up north last month was the surprising arrival of Lenzelle Smith, Jr. Smith recorded his first career double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds, leading the team to victory. Since that game, though, Smith has been inconsistent at best, averaging under 5 points per game. So, which Lenzelle Smith, Jr. will we get tonight? Hopefully Thad Matta has him amped up and prepared for another great showing.
There are two other starters that must show up tonight: Jared Sullinger and William Buford. Sullinger has been frustrated in the last two games. Buford has shown moments of brilliance and senior leadership, but only in spurts. If Ohio State wants to beat Michigan in their own house, both of those players must be on top of their game tonight.
DeShaun Thomas needs to have a decent showing as well. He's quietly averaged 12 points per game since these teams last met, but we haven't seen the spark that his capable of providing since he scored 23 on Illinois over a month ago. If Michigan watches the tape from the Buckeyes loss to Michigan State, they'll see how to frustrate Sullinger and take him out of the game. If they can implement a similar strategy, Thomas is going to be essential in a victory.
Look for Aaron Craft to be on top of his defensive game tonight as he takes on Tim Hardaway, Jr., who is averaging 14.3 points in 2012. In the last game, Craft had 7 points, 4 assists and 2 blocks. Pretty standard stats from him, but he allowed Hardaway to be Michigan's leading scorer with 15 points. Granted, that's not much above his average for the year or the season, Craft is going to have to solicit Sullinger to take some charges if they want to put a stop to Hardaway. You can be sure that Hardaway will bring his "A" game to the arena tonight, and the Buckeyes will be hard pressed to contain him with just one player.
Regardless of what fans expected at the beginning of the season, the Ohio State Buckeyes are still having a good season. They are still in the top 10 (6) at 22-4 and in no danger of missing the NCAA tournament. Michigan has moved into the rankings with their recent wins (19) bringing their record o 19-7. Michigan is in no danger of missing the tournament either, so this game is all about bragging rights and Big Ten standings. If Michigan wins, they will tie Ohio State and Michigan State for the lead in the Big Ten. If Ohio State wins, they will be the outright leader in the Big Ten.
Ohio State will finish up its season by hosting Illinois and Wisconsin before traveling to Northwestern and Michigan State. After that will be the tournament, but tonight that Buckeyes are solely focused on the maize and blue and sending their rivals to the locker room with their heads hung and tails between their legs. They've done it once this season, time to sweep Michigan and show them that Ohio State is more than a football school. Be sure to tune your TV to ESPN at 9pm eastern to see the Buckeyes win!
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