It was a joke offered in the euphoria of a hard-fought win. Moments after playing perhaps the finest game of his career to lead Ohio State past Michigan on Feb. 4 at the Crisler Center, Buckeyes junior center Kaleb Wesson sported a nasty scratch along the left side of his neck.
He said it came from a sabertooth and offered no further details. Its whereabouts remain unknown. Asked about it Thursday after a win at Nebraska, Wesson laughed and showed his still-healing wound.
“That’s not going away for a while,” he said.
It’s been equally true for the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. Since that game that featured two unranked teams with 4-6 Big Ten records, the rivals have played their way into the national rankings and pulled out of midseason slumps in the process. After starting the season with a combined 19-2 record, Michigan and Ohio State had entered that game with a combined 8-13 record since.
Starting with that game, Ohio State has gone 5-2 while dealing with absences to a few key players. Michigan, too, had won five straight leading into a loss Thursday against Wisconsin while also coping with losses to two key players.
Although the teams enter the rematch Sunday at Value City Arena in similar spots concerning their records, they have matched each other’s recent play to an extent.
“They’re playing like a team that can advance deep,” Holtmann said. “They’re playing like an elite team. I think Michigan’s terrific. They are Final Four good, I think, in a lot of ways.”
It’s unknown whether junior forward Kyle Young will play for the Buckeyes. After suffering an ankle injury during the first half last Sunday in a home win over No. 7 Maryland, Young watched the Nebraska game from the bench while wearing a walking boot and using two crutches.
On Saturday, Holtmann described Young as doubtful. Freshman forward Alonzo Gaffney will also miss his second straight game because of illness.
Without Young, the Buckeyes moved Duane Washington Jr. into the starting lineup against Nebraska and went with a three-guard lineup consisting of all of their available scholarship backcourt players. Michigan, though, has the ability to bring more size and more talent with its frontcourt.
Should Young miss the game, it would be akin to Michigan playing as it did without Isaiah Livers in the first meeting this season. Since missing the Ohio State game, Livers has played in five of the last six games, averaging 14.2 points during that stretch. At the same time, junior guard Eli Brooks missed the Wisconsin game because of a broken nose and his status is unknown.
Still, the Wolverines have been hot. And the Buckeyes know it.
“They’re on a roll right now and I feel like we expect the same game we had when we were there: a tough, hard-fought game,” Wesson said. “There’s going to be scratches, bruises, blood going everywhere. That’s what an Ohio State-Michigan game looks like, so that’s what we’re going in expecting.”