Michigan’s basketball team found something out about Ohio State last Sunday—a champion doesn’t give up its crown very easily.
The Buckeyes, who have won at least a share of the past three Big Ten titles, were left for dead after getting blown out at Illinois in their second conference game. After all, it was their third loss in three tries against quality competition, and there were plenty of daunting games on the conference horizon.
However, one victory over the arch-rival Wolverines has changed that narrative, at least for the time being.
It is obviously incredibly early in the year still, but Ohio State is officially back in the conference race, which means the importance of Saturday’s road trip to East Lansing goes beyond just a chance to beat both Michigan schools in back-to-back games.
The Big Ten is going to be a dog fight for the rest of the season, so any road win against a contender will be pure gold come March in the conference standings. To go along with the two birds and one stone cliché, a win for the Buckeyes would mean they move up and Michigan State fails to defend home court in one of its nine league tilts on its own floor.
Moreover, there are some winnable games on the docket for Ohio State after the battle against Sparty, at least by Big Ten standards. In the following four contests, the Buckeyes play Iowa at home, at Penn State, Wisconsin at home and at Nebraska.
The Badgers will be tough, and Iowa is sneaky, but both of those contests are at home. The Scarlet and Gray could very well win all four of those, which would theoretically mean a seven-game winning streak heading into Ann Arbor if Ohio State can beat Michigan State Saturday.
That type of momentum would be huge for the confidence of the young players that are so critical to the success of the team but haven’t necessarily played a significant role in past championships before, such as Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, LaQuinton Ross and Amir Williams.
The other side of that coin, though, is the fact that Ohio State will have a brutal month awaiting it from Feb. 5 through March 5. The Buckeyes will go to Michigan, play Indiana twice, travel to Wisconsin, and host Minnesota and Michigan State within that stretch.
What that means is Thad Matta’s team has to rack up as many wins as it can before that time because there will undoubtedly be some speed bumps before March. There may not be a team in the country that could go through that slate and come out the other end with a clean record.
The trip to East Lansing on Saturday also gives the Buckeyes another opportunity to improve on the road woes that have been haunting them this season against marquee competition. In fact, Ohio State is only 1-2 in true road contests, and that lone win came against a struggling Purdue squad.
The two road slip-ups were the second half collapse at Duke and the shellacking they took at Illinois. Therefore, from a confidence standpoint, Ohio State could really use a big road win with games at Michigan, at Wisconsin and at Indiana on the horizon.
While I still don’t necessarily think that this Buckeye team stacks up particularly well against the overall depth of the league, a win in East Lansing would be a huge step toward proving me wrong and earning a fourth straight Big Ten title.