Ohio State Proved National Championship Aspirations are Very Real Despite Losing to Michigan

The Buckeyes lost an instant classic to Michigan on Sunday afternoon, but they proved that they belong on the game’s biggest stage.
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We are not yet 24 hours removed from Ohio State’s disappointing loss to Michigan, but a good night sleep helped remove some of the sting. Here are a few thoughts this morning as the reality of Sunday’s outcome sets in:

First and foremost, the season is far from over. Sunday’s game against Michigan was always going to be something of a measuring stick for the Buckeyes. The Wolverines are absolutely loaded with talent and they’re extremely well-coached. They have a legitimate chance to win the national title this year ... but so do the Buckeyes.

If nothing else, I think we learned yesterday that the Buckeyes are capable of going blow-for-blow with one of the premier teams in the country. There’s a reasonable chance we may see Ohio State-Michigan II, and if we’re lucky, maybe even Part III. And whether or not they do play Michigan again, Ohio State’s national championship aspirations are very, very real.

Sunday’s game was the best college basketball game in the country this year. That was incredibly high-level execution on both ends of the floor. For an impartial crowd, it was extremely entertaining. For Ohio State fans, the outcome left a bad taste because with four minutes to play, it was a 1-point game. Michigan closed the door on a couple of tough OSU mistakes and earned its first win in Columbus in seven years.

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I think Ohio State needs to spend as much time as possible getting healthy the next few days before traveling to Michigan State on Wednesday for a Thursday night affair with the Spartans. MSU is certainly having a down year by their standards, but they are as well-coached as any team in the country. I don’t think the Buckeyes will have a hangover, but it would certainly help them to get guys like Kyle Young and Seth Towns off their feet.

Ohio State shot 55 percent from inside the 3-point line, 50 percent from beyond it and 92 percent from the free throw line ... and lost. That’s pretty abnormal. The Buckeyes took a top-15 defense and shredded them from all over the floor. Duane Washington had the best game of his career, dropping 30 and cashing in five 3-balls.

But it was the defensive end of the floor that eventually let the Buckeyes down. You’re not going to win many games in which you allow 92 points. Hunter Dickinson didn’t play like a freshman — he hasn’t played like one most of the season — and he carved up the Scarlet and Gray in the second half. He was often in 1-on-1’s with E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young, which gave him a significant size advantage. The Buckeyes couldn’t afford to double-team him because of how hot the Wolverines had been from beyond the arc.

I think the game plan was fine. A game like that one really comes down to execution. A missed shot here, a turnover there ... those things add up and are often the difference at the end of the game. I was stunned to see Justin Ahrens go scoreless for the entire afternoon. I like his chances of having a much better game should the rivalry have another rendition this year.

One final thought ... I was really glad that Coach Holtmann found a way to get Meechie Johnson Jr. in the game yesterday. The kid is fearless, swishing a 3-pointer the only time he shot the ball. He didn’t play much, but I thought it was important for his confidence to get in that game and contribute. He is supposed to still be in high school, trying to lead the Garfield Heights Bulldogs to an OHSAA state title. Instead, Johnson is playing for the No. 4 team in the country and played in the biggest rivalry in college sports. Hopefully there are big moments to come from him - especially in this series.

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