Michigan Basketball: Taking stock of Big Ten race ahead of Ohio State

Before Michigan basketball takes on Ohio State Sunday, we look at the impact the game could have on the Big Ten title race. 

Over the years, Michigan and Ohio State have played some spectacular games on the football field. But Sunday, Michigan basketball and the Buckeyes will take center stage on the hardwood where they will meet in a top-five matchup for the first time ever.

This game really has everything. It’s a rivalry, with two teams that have conference title hopes and maybe even national title hopes.

Juwan Howard has yet to beat the Buckeyes (0-2) and Ohio State wants to prove to everyone it belongs on the national stage and is a team to reckon with.

In the Big Ten race, this game is massive — for both sides. It’s hard to see Ohio State winning the league with a loss Sunday and on the other hand, a win makes U-M the prohibitive favorite.

You might wonder if the Wolverines are in that spot already and I’d say they are closer to falling out of first than some might realize.

Yes, Michigan leads Illinois by two in the loss column, but the Fighting Illini are going to play 20 games. That means if they won out and finished 17-3, Michigan could only afford one loss down the stretch and would need to be 15-2 to win the Big Ten.

Essentially, if Illinois or any other team pulls even in the loss column, it will win the tiebreaker over Michigan because the Wolverines will only play 17 games, not 20 as Illinois, Ohio State and Iowa, the top contenders will all play.

Iowa’s fifth loss really sinks their chances unless the Hawkeyes basically win out, which includes games at Michigan and Ohio State. They would also need some help from Illinois, but the Illini also play at Michigan and Ohio State in the closing stretch.

But even if Iowa went 15-5, Michigan would edge out the Hawkeyes for the title at say 13-4, just barely. So the magic number for Michigan is going to be three or four losses total.

If Michigan goes 4-2 down the stretch, it would finish 14-3 and unless Illinois won all of its game, the Wolverines would win the Big Ten title.

Ohio State, of course, could win out, but the Buckeyes would still have four losses and them winning out would mean Illinois would finish with at least four losses.

Even if Ohio State wins today, the Buckeyes will need Michigan to lose two more games to take the top spot, but that is certainly possible.

Yet, a win by Michigan today basically makes this a two-team race. Ohio State and Iowa would have five losses at that point and U-M would basically need to go winless to fall behind them.

And if Michigan were to beat Ohio State, the Wolverines would simply need to beat Illinois and go 2-2 in the other four games to clinch the title.

If Illinois happens to beat Michigan, the Wolverines would then need to win three of their last four, assuming the Fighting Illini win out, which is a large assumption in the Big Ten.

What it really boils down to, is that in the Big Ten race, the Illinois game is more important than the Ohio State game Sunday.

If Michigan beats Illinois, it can afford two other losses and still win the Big Ten championship. So that’s basically the formula: Beat Illinois and go 3-2 in the other five games.