No. 6 Ohio State may have just cost themselves a shot at getting a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday as they dropped a 56-51 decision to No. 17 Michigan on Saturday night.
With losses in two of their last three games, the Buckeyes now find themselves at 22-5 on the season —
all fivefour of those losses have come on the road, by the way — and 10-4 in the Big Ten, tied with the Wolverines a game out of first place. With Kentucky and Syracuse locking up the top two seeds, Ohio State has fallen back to the pack and now sits in a cluster with Michigan State, Kansas, Duke, UNC and Missouri, none of whom have done much of anything to stand out from the crowd.
At this point in the season, I would have a difficult time picking OSU to make the Final Four. The inconsistency of their supporting cast has made it possible for defenses to collapse on Jared Sullinger. True, Deshaun Thomas had 25 points and 13 boards on Saturday, but William Buford once again struggled, finishing 3-12 from the floor for just six points. All told, Ohio State got just 12 points on 5-22 shooting from players not named Thomas or Sullinger.
Simply put, that cannot happen.
But that was also not the biggest story coming out of this game.
Trey Burke was.
Michigan’s freshmen point guard is the biggest reason that the Wolverines are in a position to make a run at the Big Ten’s regular season title. He’s more than filled the void left by Darius Morris, and he may actually be a better player. I’m not talking potential here, either. I mean right now. Its crazy to think about, ain’t it?
What’s so impressive about Burke is his poise. Freshman point guards are supposed to get rattled. They are supposed to make some poor decisions and take some questionable shots and have some untimely turnovers. They are, frankly, supposed to play like freshman.
Burke doesn’t. He’s has a pace about him and a calmness to his game. He doesn’t rush. He not only understands what head coach John Beilein is looking for out of him, he is competent and capable enough to do it. The end of this game is a perfect example of that.
Michigan dominated this basketball game. It wasn’t a blow-out, but Michigan doesn’t necessarily have the horses to blow a team out. What they do is slowly put their opponents to sleep through offensive execution and a junky enough defensive game-plan to make them a pain to prepare for. Ohio State never led in this game, and while Michigan’s lead only reached double-figures for two fleeting moments, the Buckeyes were never able to mount a run. They chipped away slowly and got the lead to three point two in the final two minutes. But on both of those occasions, Burke was able to dribble out the clock — not an easy thing to do against an on-ball defender as good as Aaron Craft — and then beat Craft off the bounce for a bucket.
Burke finished the game with 17 points and five assists, making the game’s two defining plays down the stretch.
That had to feel great for him.
Burke is a native of Columbus, OH. He played with Sullinger — and for Sullinger’s dad — growing up. He and the biggest of the Buckeyes are best friends.
And whether it is a game of Fifa or a late-February rivalry game between two Big Ten contenders, there is nothing that feels as good as owning bragging rights over your best friend.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.