COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State and Michigan have never played each other while both teams were ranked in the top 5. That will change this Sunday.
The highest ranked game between these two teams came all the way back in the Elite Eight of the 1992 NCAA Tournament when No. 6 Michigan and the Fab Five upset No. 1 Ohio State 75-71.
That Michigan team included freshman Juwan Howard, now the head coach of the Wolverines. Ohio State’s bid for its first National Championship since 1960 ended on that day while Michigan danced on quite literally as Howard broke into the popular Cabbage Patch dance to celebrate the win.
“They very much take on the personality of Coach Howard in that they play smart, composed, tough, highly competitive. It’s the way I remember him playing,” OSU head coach Chris Holtmann said.
Now, the two teams will play their biggest game against each other since that day as they both vie for a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
This top 5 showdown is arguably Ohio State’s biggest regular season game since Feb. 25, 2007 when the No. 2 Buckeyes beat No. 1 Wisconsin 49-48 in front of a raucous Nuthouse at Value City Arena.
“I miss the fact that our fans can’t enjoy these final games here,” Holtmann said. “Three out of [our last] four games are going to be at home against top 10 opponents, but this one in particular, I hate it that our fans can’t be in the building and I hate that for our players.”
Ohio State is riding a seven-game win streak and boasts nine wins over Quad 1 teams, far and away the most in the country.
Meanwhile, Michigan played their first game last Sunday after a three-week hiatus due to the coronavirus. In that first game back, the Wolverines beat Wisconsin 67-59 on the road followed by a 71-64 win over Rutgers on Thursday.
“They’re phenomenal. They’re a legitimate national title contender. I really believe that,” Holtmann said. “This current team that Juwan has would’ve had a 30-plus win season if we would’ve had a full season.”
After Thursday’s 92-82 road win at Penn State, Holtmann mentioned a few Buckeyes are battling through injury, including Kyle Young, CJ Walker, Seth Towns and Musa Jallow.
“I think [Towns] is going to be OK . . . but he’s banged up,” Holtmann said. “He and Kyle. Kyle will be OK but he’s going to need some time off between now and game time.”
Towns is dealing with a persisting injury to his left knee, Walker had three fingers taped together on a right hand that forced him to miss a few games already, Young is battling through lower leg injuries as well is Jallow who has dealt with a lower leg injury since December.
Besides dealing with injuries, Ohio State will have to find a way to handle not one but three Wolverines who stand 6’9″ or taller in Franz Wagner, Hunter Dickinson, and Austin Davis.
“Hunter has great size. He’s 7’2″ and he’s got really good length. Austin Davis backs him up and he’s good and physical and a challenge,” Holtmann said.
Aside from Michigan’s height, the Wolverines rank toward the top of the Big Ten in several categories:
- Lowest field goal percentage allowed (38%)
- 3rd-highest scoring offense (78.4)
- 2nd-lowest scoring defense (64.9)
- 2nd-highest field goal percentage offense (50%)
- 3rd-highest three-point percentage (38%)
- 3rd-highest rebounding offense (39.4)
- 3rd-highest rebounding defense in the country (30.2)
While this is the first first time Ohio State and Michigan will play as top 5 teams, there’s a good chance it may not be the last, especially in the years to come.
“Certainly you can look at this and say that appears to be the case,” Holtmann said. “I do really like where we’re recruiting. I like where we’re at with that. I know they’re recruiting at an exceptional level as well, so I hope that’s the case and I think that would be great for both programs.”
Tip off for this historic game is set for 1:00 on Sunday in Columbus.