A milestone victory might not be enough to prevent Michigan from falling out of the Top 25 yet again, even if it is against one of its biggest rivals.
The 25th-ranked Wolverines look to bounce back from their most recent loss while again trying to give coach John Beilein his 500th career NCAA win when they host Ohio State in a Big Ten matchup Saturday night.
Two days after Michigan (13-4, 3-2) returned to the poll after dropping out for a week, the Wolverines lost 66-51 at unranked Illinois on Wednesday, leaving Beilein short of the monumental victory and his team on the verge of disappearing from the rankings one more time.
Michigan will be trying for a third consecutive home win after losing 73-61 to Wisconsin on New Year’s Eve, which pushed them out of the No. 23 spot - and the poll overall - despite beating Illinois by 10 later in the week.
The Wolverines will be going for a second straight victory over unranked Ohio State (12-3, 2-2), which can’t catch a schedule break as it faces its third straight ranked league opponent on the road. The Buckeyes lost at then-No. 21 Minnesota and then-No. 8 Michigan State in a span of four days.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” guard Jon Diebler said. “We know Michigan is a great team and they play well at home.”
If the Wolverines are to get back to their winning ways, they’ll need a much better offensive showing than they displayed in losing their 12th straight road contest to the Illini.
Despite leading by a point at halftime, Michigan shot a season-low 32.2 percent and was held 20 points below its season scoring average. Manny Harris scored 15 of the team’s 20 points in the second half to finish with 20 for the Wolverines, who were just 6-of-29 from the field in the final 20 minutes.
“We missed some open shots, and if you get open shots you have to knock them down,” said Beilein, who has won 574 total games overall, including those on the junior college and NAIA levels.
Junior forward DeShawn Sims was held to a season-low seven against the Illini. Sims and Harris hope facing the Buckeyes this time will be as good for them as it was in the teams’ last meeting.
Harris had 27 points and Sims 22, while both finished with seven rebounds as Michigan snapped a seven-game losing streak to Ohio State with an 80-70 home win on Feb. 17.
Harris, just a sophomore, is second in the Big Ten averaging 18.7 points per game, while the 6-foot-8 Sims is third at 15.9.
Evan Turner had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Buckeyes in that loss, and is fourth in the conference averaging 15.7 points. He had 13 in Ohio State’s 77-53 home rout of Indiana on Tuesday.
Freshman guard William Buford had 19 points and seven rebounds, and Diebler added 17 points for the Buckeyes, who shot 52.8 percent and made 11 3-pointers in the first half. It was the most 3s the team made in a half since hitting 12 at Michigan three years ago.
Buford is averaging 10.3 points on the season and 18.3 in his last three contests.
“I’m pretty confident right now,” Buford said. “It’s nice knowing that my team is here for me, it helps me stay relaxed on the court.”
The two teams will meet again Jan. 28 at Columbus, Ohio.