The Ohio State-Michigan basketball rivalry will never be more popular on the national stage than its soccer counterpart.
“The Game” will always be the most important setting for both sports programs. That being said, the soccer game was not played in 2020 due to COVID-19.
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So, for at least a year, basketball offers an alternative with the first top-five matchup between the teams. No. 3 Michigan (16-1) and No. 4 Ohio State (19-4) at Value City Arena in Columbus on Sunday in a big Big Ten showdown.
It’s a nod to what has become a reality since 2010: the basketball rivalry between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines is more competitive, although it will always struggle to be more convincing. Which rivalry is more complete right now? In the immediate future?
Sporting News takes a closer look.
Basketball is more competitive
This is not even an argument at this time. Since 2010, Ohio State is 9-1 against Michigan in soccer. Let’s go back to 2000, and the Buckeyes are 17-3 against the Wolverines.
The gap between schools is significant. Ohio State’s margin of victory in the last eight wins is 14.4 points. That increased to 26 points in the last two meetings, and the Buckeyes were favorites by 30 points in 2020 before the game was canceled due to COVID-19.
Basketball has not been so one-sided. Ohio State opened the 2010s with five straight victories against Michigan in basketball, but the Buckeyes have a small 8-7 lead in the last 15 games. The average margin of victory in those 15 games is 9.3 points. There has only been one beating of more than 20 points, and seven of the games have been decided by 10 points or less.
Basketball is by far the most competitive arena. Until Michigan offers an answer on the soccer side, this will continue to be the case.
Soccer is more attractive
Does that make football more captivating?
After all, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh is 0-5 against the Buckeyes, and the inability to beat Urban Meyer or Ryan Day has spawned countless stories in the college football playoff era.
It’s still as compelling as basketball when you consider that the Wolverines and Buckeyes have played three top-10 matchups since Harbaugh arrived in 2015. The 30-27 double overtime thriller between No. 2 Ohio State and the No. 3 Michigan was one of the best games of the CFP era given the stakes. The Buckeyes and Wolverines have gone in two different directions since “The Spot.”
Will Sunday’s basketball game between the Buckeyes and Wolverines carry that weight? It’s the third top-10 matchup between the teams in rivalry history (soccer has 11 to choose from), and it will weigh in when picking a No. 1 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
At this point, however, those soccer games still carry more weight. Next year’s game will be huge too, especially with the year-long hiatus.
Basketball is more complete
Both sports have thrived when there are coaches at both schools.
The rivalry in basketball increased in the clashes between Ohio State’s Thad Matta and Michigan’s John Beilein in the 2010s. The Wolverines and Buckeyes played seven consecutive games from 2012 to 2014 in which both teams qualified.
Michigan held a 4-3 lead in those games. The Buckeyes reached the Final Four in 2012 and Elite Eight in 2013. Michigan reached the NCAA championship game in 2013 and Elite Eight in 2014. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Michigan’s Trey Burke were the consensus All-Americans. These games had all the ingredients for a major college basketball rivalry.
That momentum continues in 2021 with third-year coach Chris Holtmann and second-year coach Juwan Howard. Ohio State and Michigan feel like 1991-92, when Ohio State teams led by Jim Jackson faced the Fab Five. Michigan lost both games of the regular season, but Howard was on the team that beat Ohio State 75-71 in overtime at Elite Eight.
That was the most compelling game in basketball rivalry history, and Sunday’s top-five showdown offers a taste of what it could look like for years to come.
Can Basketball Give Long Term Results?
What will the future hold?
The basketball rivalry might have something more to offer right now, and that will continue to be the case until the Michigan football team breaks Ohio State’s hold on that rivalry. It won’t be easy knowing that the Buckeyes have won four consecutive Big Ten championships heading into 2021.
Harbaugh, who received an extension this offseason, will have to lead the Wolverines after Day, who has led the Buckeyes to a pair of CFP appearances in his first two seasons. Holtmann is also 2-0 head-to-head against Howard, and it will come down to how many times basketball teams can play in this arena in future seasons.
A showdown in the top five is huge. But a Big Ten tournament championship game or NCAA tournament showdown would elevate that rivalry to new heights. That Elite Eight showdown between the Wolverines and Buckeyes remains the most talked about basketball game among schools because the setting was weird.
Big Ten basketball rivalries are different too. Some old-school Ohio State fans might consider Indiana the biggest rival in basketball. Michigan fans view Michigan State as the biggest game on the schedule.
That is another reason why soccer has a constant advantage. Soccer teams could easily play another top-10 or top-five showdown in 2021 or 2022.
There hasn’t been a more monumental competition between the two schools since the No. 1 vs. No. 2 in 2006, which Ohio State won 42-39. Can Harbaugh and Day take that rivalry to that point? Imagine if the Buckeyes and Wolverines ever played in a CFP semifinal, which might have been the case in 2006 if that had been the format.
It would take a Final Four basketball showdown between Michigan and Ohio State to match that.
Can schools deliver this year?
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.