Michigan senior center Courtney Sims may have been a contender for first team All-Big Ten honors this season if not for the presence of Ohio State phenom Greg Oden.
The two big men will meet for the first time Tuesday night when the third-ranked Buckeyes look to remain perfect at home.
Oden has easily lived up to the hype surrounding him upon his arrival for the Buckeyes (20-3, 8-1), who are 15-0 at home and tied with No. 4 Wisconsin for the conference lead. He’s averaging team highs of 15.3 points and 9.6 rebounds while blocking a conference-leading 3.5 shots.
After missing the first seven games because of wrist surgery, Oden has slowly become more and more effective with his hampered right hand.
He had 16 points and 11 rebounds for his seventh double-double Saturday in a 63-54 victory at Michigan State that drew plenty of praise from Spartans coach Tom Izzo.
“He’s really getting that jump hook down,” Izzo said. “If he gets healthy enough to dribble, he takes it to another level. He’s good, and then the double trouble is, they have so many shooters that it’s hard to double him.”
Sims leads Michigan (16-7, 4-4) with career highs of 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and appears to be rounding into form. He failed to score in double figures in his first five Big Ten games, but is averaging 18.7 points and 7.0 rebounds over his last three.
The 6-foot-10 center had a season-high 29 points and 11 rebounds in a 69-62 loss to Iowa last Wednesday.
“I was really happy for him and pleased that he gave us that kind of effort,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought he was sensational both halves and with his shot selection.”
The Wolverines have lost a season-high three straight to severely hurt their hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. Amaker was hired in 2001 to try to return Michigan to prominence, but only has a 2004 NIT championship during his tenure.
While Sims is one of four senior starters for Michigan, two of Oden’s better teammates are freshmen. Point guard Mike Conley has an assist-to-turnover ratio of more than 3-to-1 while shooting guard Daequan Cook comes off the bench to average 12.6 points.
Cook is shooting nearly 47 percent on 3-pointers, which has taken some pressure off of struggling senior Ron Lewis.
Lewis scored 11 points Saturday to snap a string of three straight games in which he failed to score in double figures.
“I thought Ron was big down the stretch,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “That was the thing we wanted him to understand, to slow things down, and like he said, sort of letting it come to him, because he is explosive.”
Lewis is shooting just over 34 percent in Big Ten play after connecting on nearly 48 percent of his shots in non-conference action.
Ohio State has won three straight against Michigan by an average of 15 points and has won five of the last six home meetings.