Ohio St.-Michigan Preview
Ohio State should be able to use its matchup with an undermanned Michigan squad to get back on track after a stinging loss.
As for the bigger picture, Thad Matta will likely have a close eye on his team's free-throw shooting, which has been lacking.
The 24th-ranked Buckeyes aim for their first series sweep in four years when they visit Michigan on Sunday.
Ohio State (19-7, 8-5 Big Ten) had won five of six prior to a 59-56 loss at Michigan State on Feb. 14, giving up a 3-pointer to Denzel Valentine with 3.2 seconds left after Sam Thompson hit a 3 a possession earlier.
The Buckeyes rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit, even with the nation's leading freshman scorer D'Angelo Russell (19.1 ppg) limited to 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Ohio State's defense was shaky, letting the Spartans shoot 48.0 percent after its last four opponents were held to 32.8 percent.
Even worse was the team's 5-of-13 mark from the free-throw line. The Buckeyes are hitting just 62.7 percent of attempts in league play, their worst mark since shooting 59.4 percent in Big Ten games in 1997-98. They appear to be trending in the wrong direction, too, hitting 57.8 percent over the last five games.
Ohio State is 11-2 when hitting at least 67.7 percent of its free throws.
"We were scraping and clawing. I know this - we can't, in this environment, this caliber of game, go 5-13 from the free throw line," Matta said. "We missed some front ends on one-and-ones. I wish I had an answer of what was going on, but we've got to make our free throws. I'm not asking for 100 percent, but that was part of it."
Second-leading scorer Marc Loving returned from a three-game suspension for an undisclosed reason but was scoreless in five minutes. He had been averaging 11.7 points on 53.2 percent 3-point shooting.
"For whatever reason the other day we kind of rode those guys in the second half and looking back I don't regret what we did and how we did it. But we're going to need Marc," Matta said.
The Buckeyes should be able to take care of the Wolverines, who have dropped five in a row. Ohio State ended a three-game series losing streak with a 71-52 win Jan. 13 even with the now-injured Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. on the floor for Michigan. Russell scored 21 and Ohio State hit 10 of 14 free throws.
The Wolverines (13-13, 6-8) haven't lost six in a row since Jan. 5-22, 2011, and are also in danger of dropping three straight at home in conference play for the first time since Feb. 6-23, 2010.
They let Michigan State shoot 62.0 percent in an 80-67 loss Tuesday, 12 days after Iowa shot 62.7 percent in Michigan's 72-54 home defeat.
Michigan has trailed at halftime in four of its five losses with an average deficit of 9.3 points in those games.
"With our depth the way we continue to grow as a team, we aren't a great comeback team," coach John Beilein said. "We haven't done a whole lot of that this year."
The Wolverines already knew LeVert wouldn't return this season after undergoing surgery, and they may not get Walton back, either. The top remaining offensive option is Zak Irvin (13.5 ppg), who is shooting 35.4 percent from beyond the arc after hitting 42.5 percent as a freshman last season.