Earlier this week, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds caused a stir when he proclaimed to the Austin American-Statesman, "The sport of basketball is in shambles."
Clearly Dodds is watching too much of the stumbling Longhorns and not enough of the exhilarating Big Ten.
Third-ranked Michigan and 10th-ranked Ohio State delivered the latest dazzling Big Ten clash, exchanging clutch baskets and hard-earned defensive stops all through regulation and overtime until the Wolverines finally gained the upper hand. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. each had key blocked shots against Ohio State's Aaron Craft in the final 15 seconds, preserving Michigan's 76-74 home victory.
Rallying from an eight-point second-half deficit enabled Michigan to avenge a previous loss to Ohio State in Columbus and avoid its first losing streak of the season. The Wolverines could not afford to follow Saturday's loss at Indiana with another setback since they still have road games at Wisconsin and Michigan State looming next on their schedule.
Michigan managed to move a half game back of the Hoosiers in the Big Ten race thanks largely to its backcourt.
Hardaway Jr. brought Michigan back from a 48-40 second-half deficit with five straight huge 3-pointers, enabling him to finish with a game-high 23 points. Burke shook free of Craft's relentless defense often enough to score 16 points, dish out eight assists and sink a 3-pointer on the opening possession of overtime that put the Wolverines ahead for good.
In reality, though, it was the defense of Burke and Hardaway that saved Michigan. First Burke recovered from behind and swatted away Craft's potential go-ahead pull-up jump shot with 10 seconds remaining. Then after Glenn Robinson III sank one of two free throws, Hardaway Jr. stuffed Craft's attempt at a coast-to-coast game-tying layup, a block that could have been ruled a foul had officials not chosen to ignore the contact.
Deshaun Thomas (USA Today Sports Images)
Alas, Ohio State's zeal to find other scorers may have been costly in overtime.
Despite leading the Big Ten in scoring entering Tuesday's game and scoring 17 points against Michigan, Thomas seldom touched the ball in overtime. Instead Craft appeared to take the game into his own hands, missing three of four shots in overtime and turning the ball over once as he struggled to get to the rim amid taller, stronger defenders.
If some of the subplots Tuesday night were Hardaway's heroics, Thomas' disappearance and the battle between Craft and Burke, then the main storyline was still the excellence of the Big Ten.
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The nation's best conference has delivered a handful of enthralling games this year, from Indiana's duel with Michigan on Saturday, to Wisconsin's upset of the Hoosiers last month, to classics between the Buckeyes and Wolverines in Columbus and Ann Arbor.
Even before Tuesday night's game was over, some were already openly rooting for a March rubber match pitting Ohio State and Michigan. It's a testament to the Big Ten that the potential Final Four-caliber matchup between the Buckeyes and Wolverines would likely happen not in the title game but the semifinals.
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