INDIANAPOLIS – Michigan had Trey Burke. Ohio State had Jared Sullinger.
The Buckeyes had Aaron Craft, but the Wolverines had no answer inside.
In a game that was ostensibly decided early in the first-half, No. 7 Ohio State advanced to their fourth consecutive Big Ten Championship game with a convincing 77-55 victory over their hated rival No. 10 Michigan.
Yep, this team might be who we thought they were entering the season.
Coming off a memorable 30-point performance in the quarterfinals against Minnesota, Burke was completely shut down by the Buckeyes pesky guard, finishing with just five points on an abysmal 1-11 shooting.
“Stopping a great player like [Burke], especially how he was feeling after last game, was a team effort,” Craft said after the game. “It’s not about me against him, our big guys did a great job of hedging out on ball screens.”
After a game where he was able to create his own shot and find lanes to the basket, Burke was inhibited from serving as a one-man offensive show for the Wolverines, and that lack of production bled all over his team. The lack of production spurred frustration from the freshman while his childhood buddy, Sullinger, took full advantage of the Wolverines not-so-stymie frontcourt, following up his own 30-point quarterfinal performance with 24 and six rebounds.
In the last four games, Sullinger has averaged 22.5 points and 11.5 rebounds. Just about what we’ve expected from him all season.
Even DeShaun Thomas, who has really come into this own in the past month, was able take on double teams and drop baby hooks over undersized Michigan forwards. He finished with 22 points and, if he continues this output, would make William Buford’s job easier and the Buckeyes far more dangerous.
“Thomas’ versatility is big time,” said Sullinger after the game. “A lot of people see him as a shooter and they will switch off him and we can get a smaller guy on him, but then we can throw it down to him in the post. He can shoot and take it to the rack.”
With tomorrow’s rematch from a week ago against Michigan State looming, the Buckeyes have positioned themselves for an outside chance at earning a No. 1 tournament seed. But even if they down the Spartans (and win their third consecutive Big Ten Tournament Championship) and don’t earn that top like on your printable bracket, That Matta’s team will have no doubt reclaimed the distinction as a true National Championship contender.
Much like the Spartans, this is a well-balanced basketball team, but at their best they are far more dangerous, with weapons at the wing and an All-American center anchoring the frontcourt.
Those five regular season conference losses are in the past. This team is playing their best basketball when it matters most.
Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.