Starting Five: Ohio State-Wisconsin Men’s Basketball Preview
A season ago, Wisconsin handed the Ohio State men’s basketball team its first loss of the 2010-11 season: a 71-67 come from behind victory for the Badgers in Madison, Wisc. Today, the No. 3 Buckeyes (19-3, 7-2) will return to the site of the first loss of Jared Sullinger’s, Aaron Craft’s, and Deshaun Thomas’ college careers as OSU heads to the Kohl Center for a 2 p.m. tipoff with No. 19 Wisconsin (18-5, 7-3) in a game that will air on ESPN.
That Wisconsin victory last February saw the Buckeyes blow a 15-point second half lead and give up 27 points to Badgers point guard Jordan Taylor. Craft said that there are still lessons to be learned from OSU’s first loss of 2011.
“You can’t let up,” Craft said. “If you watch from last year, we kind of took a big breath back and were like ‘alright, this is over,’ and there were still 14 minutes left, 15 minutes left in the game...you can’t assume anything’s over until it’s done.”
OSU coach Thad Matta said that what happened last season won’t have a lot to do with what happens on Saturday afternoon, but that his team shouldn’t be caught off guard by any challenges the Badgers present.
“Each team, each game, poses a different situation,” Matta said. “It all ties to what you’re trying to do offensively and what you’re trying to do defensively. As we look at their actions that they’re going to run tomorrow, I want to say it isn’t anything that we haven’t seen through the course of the season. Now it’s just putting our minds to it.”
This isn’t the first time that the two teams will have met since the Badgers knocked off the then-No.1 Buckeyes on Feb. 12 of last year as OSU managed to extract its revenge with a 93-65 win over Wisconsin in Columbus less than a month later. The two emotional battles between the Buckeyes and Badgers in 2011- plus a No. 1 vs. No. 2 match-up in 2007- have helped develop one of the premiere rivalries in the Big Ten.
“It would be a big game regardless of where we stood in the Big Ten standings,” Craft said. “Every game’s a big one, so we’re just trying to go in and just focus as much as we can this weekend.”
Adding fuel to the Buckeyes-Badgers rivalry is an incident that followed Wisconsin’s 2011 victory in which Sullinger claimed that a fan spit on him as the Kohl Center crowd rushed the floor. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan responded to the incident by telling the Buckeyes to “deal with it.”
Thomas, however, said that the ‘spitgate’ incident is a thing of the past.
“He really don’t discuss it,” the OSU forward said of Sullinger. “He just goes on to the next game. He’s a guy who’s focused right now.”
Winless In Wisconsin
Despite having won four Big Ten titles, there’s still one place where Matta has yet to win a game since becoming OSU’s head coach in 2004: Madison, Wisconsin. Matta admitted that having not won in Madison adds motivation to Saturday’s match-up.
“I don’t drive to work to work in the morning saying, ‘this is the biggest game of the year, we’ve got to do this’ or anything,” Matta said. “The fact that we haven’t won there as a program, it does definitely make you want to win.”
Thomas echoed his coaches' thoughts in saying that picking up OSU’s first win in Madison under Matta is the Buckeyes’ No. 1 priority on Saturday.
“Fire.” Thomas said when asked what having not won in Madison adds to the Buckeyes. “This would be the first team that coach would get a win with. It’s just coming in with a mindset of doing the right thing and trying to get the win.”
Despite a contrast in their styles of play, Saturday’s match-up between the Buckeyes and Badgers will feature a showdown between the top two defenses in college basketball this season. Craft said that the key to Wisconsin’s stout defense doesn’t lie with just one player.
“They play great team defense. They all buy into coach (Bo) Ryan’s scheme and what he wants them to do to be successful and they do it really well,” Craft said. “If you look, you always see the five guys connected like we always talk about. It’s in a different way than us, but at the same time, they do it really well.”
The OSU point guard said that one of the main reasons for the Badgers’ success of the defensive end of the floor is the unique homecourt advantage that the Kohl Center presents.
“It’s a place that’s awesome to go play at. It’s a great place and a great atmosphere,” Craft said. “They’re a great team and they have a great coach.”
Scouting The Badgers
Just like they were last season, the Badgers are again led by Taylor, a preseason All-American selection. The senior point guard has seen his production drop from last season when he averaged 18.1 points per game. This season he is averaging 14.1 points per game on 39.1 percent shooting from the field. After having faced All-Big Ten candidates in Tim Frazier and Trey Burke in Buckeyes’ past two outings, Taylor will be just latest test for Craft in this conference season.
“We’re not out there on islands by ourselves when we’re on defense,” Craft said. “The more we can help each other out and the more we’re connected, the better defensively we can be, and I think that’s something we’re starting to understand.”
Since starting off in the conference 1-3, the Badgers have won their past six games and find themselves in second place in the Big Ten. A win over the Buckeyes would move Wisconsin into a tie for first in the conference with OSU.
“Their consistency over 40 minutes, their ability to defend and make it tough to score,” Matta said of the differences between Wisconsin now and at the start of the Big Ten season. “Jordan Taylor is, at least numbers-wise, playing a little better basketball. A couple years ago kind of went through the same thing and really finished the Big Ten strong.”