There's a video on YouTube breaking down the pros and cons of former Michigan Wolverine Trey Burke's game, using his performance at Ohio State from last season.
That's a thorough and mostly fair portrayal of Burke, but he would probably take exception with the selection of this particular game. It's like evaluating a running back in a game where he played in six inches of snow. The conditions are far from the norm.
Trying to move on the court against the Buckeyes' Aaron Craft is a battle of mental and physical stamina. He seems to know where you're going and simply squeezes right past any sort of strategy—a ball screen, for instance—to knock him off your path.
No one figures out how to attack Craft, but Burke was the one point guard in the country who had so much ability that good offense could beat Craft's stellar defense. Burke scored 16 points and had eight assists in a 76-74 overtime win at Michigan. Of course, he also had four turnovers in one of Michigan's worst offensive performances of the year in a 56-54 loss at Ohio State.
Either Craft was going to annoy Burke enough to slow Michigan, or Burke was going to find a way to still be productive. That was all you had to focus on a year ago in the two games, which were so good that the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry was the most entertaining of all the rivalries in college basketball last year.
That's why, in September, we're looking ahead to the one matchup this coming season. (Yo, Big Ten schedule-makers, can we go ahead and make sure to schedule this game twice every season?)
Burke is gone, and Craft is still around, but as of right now, the Feb. 11 meeting at Ohio State could be considered a coin flip. Both will be preseason Top 10 teams. Both are replacing their leading scorer. And both are coached by two of the best in the business.
Will the return of Craft and the loss of Burke give Ohio State the advantage? Or does Michigan hold enough of a talent advantage to negate Craft's defense?
Let's take a look at how they match up.
Ohio State's Offense vs. Michigan's Defense
This is the most unknown aspect of how the two teams will match up.
Ohio State will be in search of an identity and a go-to scorer after a year of funneling the ball as much as possible to Deshaun Thomas.
Coach John Beilein will spend much of the nonconference games trying to sort out who plays where and whether Michigan should play big or small.
In this particular matchup, Beilein might be inclined to play small even if going big with Mitch McGary at the 4 becomes his preference. And the reason for that is LaQuinton Ross, the leading candidate to be the Buckeyes' Thomas this year.
Ross, like Glenn Robinson III last year, will most likely be a wing playing at the 4 spot. Even if McGary improves his ability to defend on the perimeter, Ross' quickness would make that a difficult matchup.
Ross showed the potential to be a star in March when he averaged 17.7 points over Ohio State's final three games, but don't expect him to be the Thomas of the Buckeyes' offense.
Thomas was a chucker a year ago almost out of necessity. He took 32.2 percent of Ohio State's shots when he was on the court, per KenPom.com (subscription needed), and he got up 33 shots in the two meetings with Michigan.
Craft should be expected to take a more assertive role in the offense this year, and Sam Thompson could also see his role increase. The presence of balance could lead to an improved Ohio State offense.
Michigan's defense should also be improved, and McGary could present some problems for Ohio State if he's matched up against a non-scorer like Amir Williams.
That would allow McGary to roam, and he had some success playing that way in the two meetings last year. He had two blocks in the first game and a block and four steals in the second meeting. And that was before the McGary transformation in March.
Whoever is the bigger difference-maker—McGary with his defense or Ross with his scoring—could determine who wins the battle when Ohio State is on offense.
Michigan's Offense vs. Ohio State's Defense
Last year, Beilein had to game-plan for how Burke could be effective against Craft's defense, because so much of Michigan's offense centered around Burke.
With freshman point guard Derrick Walton running the show this year, Beilein might want to consider how to run the offense with Walton away from the ball.
It's not something that he considered with Burke against Michigan, but he did use other ball-handlers to handle pressure against pressing teams. Usually that was Tim Hardaway Jr. In that role this year, it could be freshman wing Zak Irvin.
The problem with that, however, is that Ohio State has another ball-hawking guard in Shannon Scott, who actually had a higher steals rate than Craft last season.
But much like Michigan defensively, we could see some different looks from Beilein's offense this year.
Beilein has never had a traditional scoring big man like McGary. Last year, McGary was mostly just a finisher and benefactor of Burke's penetration. This season, it's a good bet that some offense will be run through him.
Robinson will also take on an increased role, and in this game especially, he could take on more of the ball-handling responsibilities.
Michigan is not hurting for scorers—don't forget Nik Stauskas, who has yet to be mentioned—and on most nights, Beilein's offense will still be one of the best in the country.
But against Craft and company, it's not a matter of whether you have scorers. It comes down to whether you can handle the pressure.
Last year, the Wolverines figured it out in the second meeting. They'll only get the luxury of a second meeting this year if they meet in the Big Ten tournament.
If the question is who will finish higher in the standings, the answer might still be a coin flip. But in one game at Ohio State with Walton experiencing Craft's defense for the first time?
Advantage Craft and Ohio State.
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