Vegas: Ohio State -1.5
Here are my three keys to the game:
1) Burke must play well against Craft - Trey Burke has downplayed the significance of the matchup between him and Aaron Craft in the media, but let's be honest. Burke had a huge game in Ann Arbor against OSU, and struggled in the games played in Indianapolis and Columbus. Burke is a vicious on the ball defender, and Burke must use his superior athleticism and play smart to get the best of this matchup. Craft has been known to get 2 quick fouls and sit out the rest of this half. Michigan should run screens off Craft and try to get him into situations where he makes mistakes to pick up those fouls. That can be tricky with Big Ten officiating on the road, however, especially in big games with loud crowds. I would be cautious using such a strategy. (This is a more tactical way of saying the refs let Craft get away with murder. However, I probably just ruined it all by writing this part in parentheses)
2) Make open shots - Michigan moves the ball well around the permeter, possibly better than any team in the country. There will be open shots for the taking. Stauskas, Hardaway, and Burke especially must capitalize on these opportunities. One way to hush a loud crowd is to make 3 pointers and grab an early lead. Michigan needs to make shots early and often.
3) Rebounding - As I stated earlier, OSU lost a lot of rebounding when Sullinger left. However, OSU is still +6.8 at rebounding margin, 32nd in college basketball. Michigan has been a step better, at +9.9, good for 6th best in college hoops. A case can be made, however, that Michigan hasn't really been tested in this category, as they have played more uptempo teams, and nobody with a really strong frontcourt yet. Ohio State will test Michigan, but this is a battle I think Michigan can win.
Prediction: This game will go back and forth the whole way, with several ties and lead changes. I'm looking for a big game from Tim Hardaway, Jr. Shooting guards from good teams have lit up OSU this year (Sulaimon - 17, Paul - 19, McLemore - 22), and I expect that trend to continue. I think McGary will struggle in his first big road game against tough competition. Stauskas is cold blooded, and he will hit 3s. DeShaun Thomas will get his points, but the rest of the team will struggle.
Michigan 75 Ohio State 71 in an instant classic