In position to secure the best start in school history and No. 1 spot in the AP poll, Michigan hopes to finally have what it takes to end its road struggles against archrival Ohio State.
The second-ranked Wolverines hope to remain the nation’s lone unbeaten when they try to avoid a ninth consecutive road defeat to the No. 15 Buckeyes in a Big Ten showdown Sunday.
“Ohio State-Michigan, just the rivalry, the two names when they play against each other, it’s always going to be an intense game,” said Wolverines star guard Trey Burke, a Columbus native.
While the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry remains one of the best in all of sports, Ohio State (12-3, 2-1) has won 16 of 19 between the two on the basketball court, and eight in a row at home by an average 14.0 points. The Wolverines haven’t won in Columbus since Jan. 15, 2003 – their only victory in the past 12 trips.
Michigan (16-0, 3-0) snapped a six-game series skid with a 56-51 home win last season but fell 77-55 to the Buckeyes in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. However, this could be the season the Wolverines end their misery in Columbus.
With four players averaging at least 12.6 points, Michigan ranks among the national leaders in scoring (80.0 points per game) and shooting (51.4 percent) en route to matching the 1985-86 team for the school’s best start. That also was the last season an unbeaten Michigan team headed to Columbus – and won 78-68 on Jan. 4, 1986.
A victory Sunday would surely vault the Wolverines to No. 1 after top-ranked Duke suffered its first defeat Saturday, 84-76 at No. 20 North Carolina State. Michigan hasn’t been No. 1 since the 1992-93 season, when the “Fab Five” reached the national title game.
“They are playing tremendous basketball,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “It’s got to be an all-hands-on-deck type of performance (to stop them).”
With the Wolverines starting strong this season after sharing the Big Ten title with the Buckeyes and Michigan State in 2012, Burke feels these rivals might be on equal ground.
“I think they’re both kind of similar, I wouldn’t compare them, but we got out to a good start and we’re just trying to stay humble and work hard every day,” said Burke, who tops Michigan with 18.2 points and 7.3 assists per game.
Burke averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 turnovers in three games against the Buckeyes in 2011-12. This time, the sophomore will be more focused on his team, not himself.
“I know it’s going to be a team thing and not be a personal matchup,” Burke said. “Maybe that was the case last year, but now I know what it takes to win.
“I expect pretty much the same atmosphere as last year. It was very intense. We all were getting booed. It should be fun.”
The Wolverines are coming off a 62-47 win over Nebraska on Wednesday in which they shot a season-low 38.9 percent, including 3 of 17 from 3-point range.
“We had to grind one out,” said coach John Beilein, who hopes to guide the Wolverines to their first 4-0 league start since 2002-03. “That adversity is good stuff in the long run.”
That experience could come in handy against Ohio State, which rebounded from last Saturday’s 74-55 loss at No. 12 Illinois with a 74-64 win at Purdue on Thursday.
All three of the Buckeyes’ losses have come to ranked teams. They’ve shot below 34.0 percent in those games, compared to a 49.9 average in their wins.
Ohio State’s offense continues to rely on star forward Deshaun Thomas, averaging a Big Ten-high 20.3 points and a team-leading 6.8 rebounds. He’s scored 22.7 per game in league play.
“I’m just excited for him because he’s worked really, really hard and I hope he continues to play at the level he is,” Matta said.
Thomas has totaled 47 points on 18-of-28 shooting in the last two games versus Michigan.