(CBS Detroit)- There are just a few weeks left before Selection Sunday and the opportunities for teams to improve their tournament resumes are shrinking. This Sunday, a pair of Big Ten teams will have the chance to prove to the committee that they belong on the top line of the bracket as #3 Michigan makes the trip to Columbus, Ohio to face the #4 Ohio State Buckeyes on CBS.
In last weekend’s Bracket Preview Show, NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee Chair Mitch Barnhart and NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt had both teams among the top four in the country, listed as one seeds along with Baylor and Gonzaga at that point.
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— March Madness TV (@MarchMadnessTV) February 13, 2021
Since then, each has picked up a pair of Big Ten victories. For Michigan, it started with a comeback win over Wisconsin last Sunday in the team’s first game in over three weeks due to COVID health and safety protocols. CBS Sports college basketball analyst Bill Raftery was on the call for that game and came away impressed with the attitude that the Wolverines showed being able to shake off the rust in the first half and pull out a gritty win.
“A lot of teams have had this pause but they may not be as talented. And that’s a big differential. And also mental attitude, acumen, what you have to do to stay fresh. They did a lot of individual stuff,” said Raftery. “I think physically they were ready and then the mental adjustment was the first half. Then they relied on what they’ve been taught, what they wanted to run, whatever the scouting report was.”
He points to the experience of this Michigan team, one which features four seniors and a graduate student among their top eight scorers, as a big factor in the team’s performance. The steadying hands of senior guard Eli Brooks and graduate transfer Mike Smith in the back court combined with a front court featuring senior Isaiah Livers and sophomore Franz Wagner makes for an experienced lineup. One thing that seems to have become evident in college sports this year is experienced squads have been better able to handle the inconsistency and stops and starts of the COVID affected season.
Ohio State fits into that category as well with a rotation full of juniors and seniors. After a setback when senior guard CJ Walker was knocked from the lineup due to torn ligaments in his hand, the Buckeyes were able to adjust with redshirt junior Justice Sueing stepping into his place. Walker’s since returned to the lineup and the Buckeyes have won seven straight and 10 of their last 11 games.
“They have a really talented backcourt with Walker back running the show and (Duane) Washington is not afraid of any shot. Big shot, important shot, game-winning shot, that kid will take it. The kid (Kyle) Young up front is sort of the glue guy. They have a mature outlook as a team. Each guy knows his responsibility and obviously the big player is (E.J.) Liddell,” said Raftery. “This is a guy who has a very bright future because he can play a lot of spots. He just keeps getting better with his shot. Everybody on this team knows where they fit. It’ll be interesting to see how Liddell and Key play Dickinson. How they adjust defensively to him.”
That last point is the key matchup that Raftery will be watching when these teams tip off on Sunday in Columbus. How does Ohio State defend the 7’1″ 255 pound Dickinson? The freshman is a handful down low but double teaming or keeping an extra eye on him defensively can leave teams open to what Michigan does so well, cutting off the ball.
“Michigan is a really good diving team. If you ball watch, they all cut great. I’ve seen Brooks get a back cut maybe eight or nine times this year because defenses are all looking to help out or get a hand in on the big guy,” said Raftery. “I think that’s the important aspect. How is he played and how does Ohio State respond. Can they contain him? Because he is a big, strong kid that plays great, posts up great. That’s one of the issues you address in this game.”
Regardless of Sunday’s result, Raftery believes both of these teams are likely to find a 1 next to their name come tournament time.
“It’s interesting, before the pause, I thought Michigan was with Baylor and Gonzaga and Ohio State was always a work in progress. That work has been established now. The way they’re playing, home and on the road, the confidence level they’re playing with,” said Raftery.
Tune in Sunday on CBS when #3 Michigan faces #4 Ohio State at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio tip off scheduled for 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS.