Ohio State seemingly has little to play for in its regular-season finale Saturday. The same can’t be said for Michigan when the Big Ten foes meet at Ann Arbor in their regular-season finale.
A 49-48 win over then-No. 1 Wisconsin on Sunday gave the Buckeyes (26-3, 14-1) their second straight Big Ten regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament.
While Saturday’s game doesn’t mean anything in the standings for the Buckeyes, who earned the No. 1 ranking in this week’s AP poll for the first time in 45 years, the team understands the importance of playing well heading into the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
“The team is very focused,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “The stakes are just as high for us as they are for Michigan and the guys know it.
“It’s just about winning; trying to get to 15-1. We are not worried about rankings or our seed. Michigan is the next team on our schedule.”
An upset over Ohio State and a good showing in the conference tournament would certainly help Michigan’s case for making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1997-98.
The Wolverines (20-10, 8-7) notched their second straight 20-win season with a 67-56 home victory over Michigan State on Tuesday.
“I’m very proud of them for being able to stay focused and take one game at a time,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I can’t say enough about how they were able to tackle this challenge, handle it the right way, and we’re hopeful that we’re not done yet.”
Since losing four straight from Jan. 24-Feb. 6, the Wolverines have gone 4-2. Michigan is 17-2 at home this season, but its only other quality win besides the Michigan State game was over Indiana. The Wolverines are 3-8 on the road and 1-4 against Top 25 teams.
Michigan is 1-16 all-time versus No. 1 ranked opponents, with the only win coming against Duke on Dec. 13, 1997.
Guard Dion Harris, who scored 24 points on Tuesday and leads the Wolverines with 13.4 per game, is one of four Michigan seniors who will be honored Saturday.
“It’s going to be big and emotional,” Wolverines senior Courtney Sims said. “It’s going to be a big game because if we win then we’ll be over .500 in the conference. It’s going to be our last game here so it’s going to be huge for the seniors.”
Sims led Michigan with 17 points in a matchup at Ohio State on Feb. 6, but Mike Conley Jr. scored a season-high 23 points and Greg Oden added 17 to lead the Buckeyes to a 76-63 victory. It was Ohio State’s fourth straight win in the series.
Conley’s runner in the lane with 4 seconds left was the difference in the win over Wisconsin on Sunday.
“I had a feeling I was going to get the ball,” said Conley, who averages 10.1 points and a team-leading 6.4 assists while playing in Oden’s high-profile shadow. “I just went to the hole and it worked out for us.”
Ohio State, which has won 13 straight since suffering its only conference loss at Wisconsin on Jan. 9, will play with a No. 1 ranking for the first time since the 1961-62 season.
“I think in our situation it’s more for the people outside our program to focus on,” Matta said. “Our focus, as I said to the team right after the (Wisconsin) game, is we have to do what got us to this position and that’s a day-by-day approach to find ways to improve individually and our whole system as we play.
“It’s odd to win a second championship and still have to play another game and then the conference tournament. It’s a big challenge for our guys to go out and find ways to get better.”