Michigan began a four-game stretch last weekend that could determine whether the Wolverines or Michigan State wins the Big Ten regular season championship. Before the Wolverines can potentially foil their in-state rival, they had to take care of their traditional rival over in Columbus. Consider that first mission accomplished.
Michigan bounced back from a disastrous showing at Iowa, using a 14-2 run in the middle of the second half to take control of Tuesday night's game against Ohio State en route to a 70-60 victory. Nik Stauskas shot 4-for-9 from the floor, knocking down 3 of 6 attempts from behind the arc while dealing with Aaron Craft for most of the night. Derrick Walton shot just 3-for-10, but posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds while adding six assists. He also hit possibly the biggest shot of the night for the Wolverines, knocking down a three with 4:41 remaining to extend the lead to six. His three free throws with less than two minutes left put Michigan up 10 and effectively buried the Buckeyes.
At 10-2 in the conference, the Wolverines sit a half-game ahead of the Spartans, who host Northwestern on Wednesday. Michigan has two games remaining in its toughest run of the year, with Wisconsin visiting Crisler Arena over the weekend before their game against the Spartans in Ann Arbor on Feb. 23. Meanwhile, Michigan State is in the middle of a soft stretch of its schedule, as they'll host Nebraska and travel to Purdue after the Northwestern game. However, that game with Michigan kicks off a four-game finish to the season that also includes Iowa and Ohio State. Michigan, on the other hand, ends its season with matchups against Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana. If Michigan can take care of business against Wisconsin this weekend, the Wolverines will be in a great spot to win their second regular season championship in the last three years.
On Tuesday, SI.com's Brian Hamilton wrote about Stauskas needing more help from his teammates if Michigan is to get back to the Final Four. The Wolverines were able to survive Ohio State despite lackluster shooting nights from Walton and Glenn Robinson III, but the same may not be true against better offensive teams in the tournament. The Buckeyes have the 90th-ranked offense by adjusted efficiency on kenpom.com, and that showed in Tuesday's loss. While they shot 44.2 percent from the floor, they were just 3-for-20 from distance. LaQuinton Ross, who entered the game making 41.6 percent of his three-point attempts, was 0-for-4, and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. was 3-for-9. The Buckeyes aren't a great three-point shooting team -- they've made just about one-third of their attempts this season, which ranks 127th in the country -- but they fell in love with the long-range shot against Michigan. The Buckeyes are 2-3 against Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa this season, but they have just one game against that group remaining. Before a season-ending game in East Lansing, they play five Big Ten teams that are a combined 20-34 in conference. The Buckeyes don't have any resume-building wins out of the conference, meaning they may need to make some noise in the Big Ten tournament to rise up any higher than a 5- or 6-seed in the Big Dance.