The Ohio State Buckeyes' Big Ten Reclamation Project rolls on Tuesday night, and the No. 22 Buckeyes have a chance for one of their biggest wins yet when they host the No. 15 Michigan Wolverines at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN and WatchESPN.
It feels like an awfully long time since Ohio State (19-5, 6-5) was undefeated heading into conference play -- and I guess in some circles, five weeks is a long time. The Buckeyes opened their Big Ten schedule with two wins before dropping five of six, including a home overtime loss to Penn State and a road loss to Nebraska. But Ohio State has since recovered, and back-to-back road wins over the Wisconsin Badgers and Iowa Hawkeyes have the Buckeyes looking like they did when they dominated the first third of the season.
In the Buckeyes' five losses, they were forced into a faster pace than Thad Matta built the team to withstand. Only one of Ohio State's five conferences losses played to fewer than 66 possessions, whereas four of their six league wins to date were under 65.
The possession count should be low Tuesday, because both Ohio State and Michigan like to play it that way. Michigan's 63.4 possessions per game rank 322nd out of 351 Division I teams. That makes it all the more remarkable that their offense is as productive as it is. KenPom.com's adjusted offensive efficiency -- points per 100 possessions, adjusted to the average defense -- has the Wolverines (17-6, 9-2) at 121.3, third in the country behind only Duke and Creighton.
As much as the Buckeyes struggled early in the Big Ten, their defense is still fourth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency at 88.9. In other words: Tuesday's game, one which the Buckeyes need in order to stay afloat, and Michigan needs to remain in a tie with Michigan State atop the league standings, a game better than Iowa—will pit one of the most efficient offenses in the country against one of the most efficient defenses.
Michigan had one of its worst games of the season its last time out, an 85-67 loss to Iowa on Saturday. The Wolverines weren't that bad, by the numbers, but Iowa able to have a tremendous outing all the same. Ohio State's offense hasn't had the firepower consistently and seems to be a candidate to exploit Michigan's defense as Iowa did, especially on the perimeter. That said, anything can happen in a single game.
After hitting threes like an insane person for all of January -- an insane person who is also really good at shooting threes, that is -- Nik Stauskas has cooled a bit in February. He's 2 for 8 from deep in three games this month, which is not good by any standard, and especially not so in contrast to his 22-of-48 total in January.
No. 3 Florida Gators at Tennessee Volunteers, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN: Florida kicks off perhaps its most important week of the season Tuesday with a trip to Rocky Top. The Gators had their way with Tennessee in the previous meeting between the two this season; a 67-41 Florida drubbing in Gainesville on Jan. 25. Tennessee's Jordan McRae was 1 of 15 from the field in that game, and one has to assume he'll be better than that.
McRae hasn't been that bad in each of Tennessee's eight losses, but he's been very good in nearly all of its 15 wins. Offensive Rating is a statistic tracked at KenPom.com that measures an individual's offensive efficiency in a game. A score of 100 is average, and each point above 100 is one percent better than average (and a point below is one percent lower than average). McRae has had a score of at least 100 in 13 of Tennessee's 15 wins; of Tennessee's six SEC wins, his Offensive Rating has been at least 133 in five.
Florida's two-week road trip takes it to Lexington, Ky., on Saturday night to face the No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats.
Oklahoma State Cowboys at No. 19 Texas Longhorns, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN: Oklahoma State's collapse is in full ... collapse, and it will intersect Tuesday with one of the hottest teams in the Big 12. The Cowboys have lost five of their last six, including a road loss to Texas Tech on Saturday and a home loss a week before that to a Baylor team that has had as many problems over the last month as the Sochi Olympics, which is a topical reference that you should laugh at and enjoy.
The Cowboys will play their first of three games without Marcus Smart, suspended Monday for shoving a fan in the loss to the Red Raiders on Saturday. Meanwhile, Texas' seven-game win streak was snapped Saturday with a 74-57 loss at Kansas State. After Kansas' 85-82 loss Monday night to the selfsame Wildcats, the Longhorns are now one game behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings.
Other nationally televised games Tuesday:
Wake Forest Demon Deacons at North Carolina State Wolfpack, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU/WatchESPN
Ole Miss Rebels at Alabama Crimson Tide, 9 p.m. ET, ESPNU/WatchESPN
Utah State Aggies at Colorado State Rams, 9:15 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
No. 5 San Diego State Aztecs at Wyoming Cowboys, 11 p.m. ET, ESPNU/WatchESPN