A month after Michigan basketball coach John Beilein called his archrival “Ohio” to avoid calling the Buckeyes “Ohio State,” his Wolverines will have to face the school that actually goes by that name.
Ohio drew the No. 13 seed in the Midwest Region in the NCAA Tournament and will square off against Michigan for the first time in 41 years when the squads meet in Nashville on Friday.
The Bobcats (27-7) earned their ticket to Music City by winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament Saturday. Michigan (24-9), ranked 10th in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, got an at-large bid after losing 77-55 to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals Friday.
Ohio has not played Michigan since Dec. 20, 1971, when the Wolverines won 87-81 in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines have won all three matchups between the schools, but both programs have evolved dramatically since last facing off.
“We're just excited to be in the tournament,” sophomore guard Nick Kellogg said. “I think coach (John Groce) would agree we got a pretty good draw. We're going to work hard this week to prepare and we'll be ready to go Friday.”
The Bobcats and Wolverines enter the 2012 Big Dance on upswings for their respective programs. Michigan grabbed a share of its first Big Ten regular-season title since 1986, and Ohio set a new team record with 27 wins so far.
Ohio University president Roderick McDavis said Groce, who was an assistant coach at Ohio State before coming to Athens, has built a “program” with its second NCAA Tournament appearance in three seasons. In 2010, the Bobcats upset Georgetown in the first round before falling to Tennessee. That was the team’s first win in the tournament in 27 years, and Ohio is looking to repeat its Big Dance success on a much shorter timeframe.
“Experience is a great teacher,” Groce said. “We'll rely on that because it's a week where you have to avoid distractions. You've got to lock in and focus in.”
One aspect that might be key in the matchup is 3-point efficiency. Michigan relies on long-range shots for a large part of its offense. Only 10 teams in the country rely on the 3-pointer more than the Wolverines.
Meanwhile, Ohio’s 3-point defense is the 13th-best in the country. Neither team is known for its incredible play in the paint, making the teams’ guard play an area to watch.
“I know some of their tendencies on offense and what they like to do defensively,” said junior guard Walter Offutt, whom Groce recruited to play at Ohio State before both left the program to join the Bobcats.
“Basketball is a game of matchups. There are very beatable teams and teams that we match up well against.”