Michigan plays rival Ohio State Sunday with a chance to become the no. 1 team in the country. Winning on the road in the Big Ten is very difficult. Winning on the road against a big rival with a chance to become the top ranked team in the country is even harder – this is going to be a tough game.
It will come down to individual match-ups. The game will come down to which stars come through big, and which stars the defense can shut down.
Ohio State will try to contain Trey Burke with Aaron Craft on the perimeter. That will be a fascinating match-up to watch. Craft is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, and Burke is the best point guard in the country. Craft is able to stifle opposing guards by getting in their faces and taking away space. Burke is one of he quickest guards out there, and can embarrass defenders with his crossover. If Craft can bother Burke, he will have a chance to knock Michigan out of their offensive rhythm.
On the other end of the court, Ohio State’s biggest threat is Deshaun Thomas. Thomas is a versatile scorer. He is able to score in the paint, as well as stretch the defense out with good jump shot, despite his 6-7 ft frame. Thomas is averaging 20.4 ppg, shooting 47.2% from the field and 40.4% on three pointers. Thomas is the Buckeye offense, as he has attempted the most shots of anyone in the Big Ten.
Coach John Beilein stated, “Deshaun [Thomas] can get it going and there’s no college playbook or NBA playbook that can stop some of the things he’s doing right now. … defense has to be good.”
Suffice to say, if Michigan can stop Thomas, they will win.
So, who will be primarily guarding the big Buckeye?
Although Michigan tends to play mostly 2-3 and 1-3-1 defense, I expect that there will be some man-to-man defense. I think freshmen Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are best suited to guard Thomas. McGary is the huge freshman big man who has rare quickness and anticipation on defense. He is strong enough to be physical inside with Thomas, while also being athletic enough to follow him to the perimeter. Robinson, is smaller than McGary, and actually about the same size as Thomas. He is strong and quick enough to man up with Thomas as well.
How Beilein will decide to try to stop Thomas is uncertain. He loves to use the 1-3-1 to slow down and confuse opposing offenses – whether or not he decides to use some man-to-man defense remains to be seen.
However, if he does, Michigan has the athleticism and size to keep up with Thomas.