Sunday’s Michigan Wolverines vs. Ohio State Buckeyes showdown in Columbus was “The Game of games” so far this year in college basketball, with Juwan Howard’s club grinding out a hard-fought 92-87 win.
There was an immense amount of hype surrounding the contest beforehand, due to the fact the two bitter rivals were squaring off for the first time ever as Associated Press top five opponents.
Needless to say, the game lived up to the hype … and then some.
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Sunday’s showdown was billed by many as the second largest meeting in the rivalry’s history, and after taking a quick look at several of the biggest matchups that occurred before it, it’s hard to think otherwise.
The most significant game in the rivalry’s history is unanimously viewed as the 1992 Elite Eight showdown, when the Fab Five took down a one-seeded and Big Ten champion Buckeye crew in an overtime thriller at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena.
Michigan ended OSU’s season on its way to the Final Four and then eventually the national championship.
It will be tough for any future Michigan/Ohio State battles to ever the top aforementioned 1992 game, with a Final Four or national championship matchup seemingly being the only way to do so.
It will be equally tough for any future regular-season clashes in the rivalry to eclipse this past Sunday’s. The stakes couldn’t have been much higher, with both teams rated in the AP top five and significant Big Ten implications on the line for each.
There had been 15 occurrences prior to Sunday where U-M and OSU had met as ranked opponents, but only twice had they met when both were ranked inside the nation’s top 10 (a list that technically doesn’t include the Elite Eight matchup, since U-M came into that game ranked No. 15 in the AP top 25).
Fifteen of the 16 ranked on ranked battles have occurred since 1989, with 10 of them taking place since 2012 alone. It’s worth noting, however, the AP Poll wasn’t introduced in college basketball until the 1948-49 season.
Each of the 16 Time Michigan and Ohio State Have Squared off as Ranked Opponents
* — Michigan and Ohio State met in the Big Ten Tournament in both 2012 and 2014, while the 1992 matchup occurred in the Elite Eight
Both Michigan and Ohio State have suffered through rough patches throughout their respective histories, which has led to the overall small number of ranked on ranked matchups.
The 1950s and 1970s, in particular, were rough for the Buckeyes, while the 1950s and 2000s served as down decades for the Maize and Blue. Both programs were great at the same time in the 2010s, however, allowing the rivalry to reach consistently great heights it hadn’t seen before.
This was in large part due to the powerhouse programs John Beilein built at Michigan and Thad Matta at Ohio State, with each man’s placement — Howard and Chris Holtmann, respectively — continuing that trend.
From the start of the 2011-12 season through the end of 2013-14, all seven of the Michigan vs. Ohio State games saw both clubs ranked. U-M went 4-3 against the Buckeyes during that span, with four of the seven games being decided by five points or less.
That was arguably the best extended span in the rivalry’s history, providing fans with instant classics such as Michigan’s 72-69 triumph over the Buckeyes in the 2014 Big Ten Tournament semifinals, and U-M’s thrilling 76-74 overtime win at Crisler Center in 2013 when both teams were ranked inside the nation’s top 10.
Michigan then hit a bit of a lull in 2014-15, 2015-16 and the first half of the 2016-17 season, with the Buckeyes doing the same in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Both clubs bounced back in a big way in 2017-18, however, providing the first ranked matchup in the series since 2014.
Each school has since endured a coaching change, with Howard taking over for Beilein prior to the 2019-20 campaign and Holtmann for Matta before the 2017-18 season. Both successors have their respective teams playing as well as their predecessors once did.
The culmination was we saw on the court this past Sunday, with each team playing at the highest of levels and as a result providing an instant classic to one of the most bitter rivalries American sports has ever seen.
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