No. 3 Ohio State (19-3, 7-2) tips off the more difficult second half of the B1G schedule at the Kohl Center in a 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon date with No. 19/20 Wisconsin (17-5, 7-3). The streaking Badgers have won six straight games, after starting the conference slate 1-3. Wisconsin has the longest current winning streak in the B1G. Ohio State is second, with four in a row. You’ll no doubt remember the last time the Buckeyes visited Madison. Jordan Taylor went HAM in the second half, the Badgers overcame a 15-point second half deficit, and someone spit on Jared Sullinger. In the wake of the Buckeyes having their 24-game winning streak snapped last year, Badgers coach Bo Ryan suggested Sully “deal with it” in regards to being spit on. Oh yes, there is so much hate right now between these teams and these schools. Bret Bielema’s recent remarks about Urban Meyer are not likely to lower the boil, and I really hope someone brings an umbrella for Sully after what happened last year. Dave O’Brien and Dan Dakich will call the
The teams each won at home last year and the Kohl Center is a beast that Thad Matta has yet to tame. You have to go all the way back to March 14, 2003 for Ohio State’s last win in Madison, a 58-50 final in which Sean Connolly’s 21 points and Brent Darby’s 16 helped upset the No. 18 Badgers. The Kohl Center may be a tough nut to crack, but the Badgers have been unusually vulnerable there this season, losing three times at home already—to Marquette, Iowa (yes, Iowa), and Sparty (in overtime). The Marquette loss snapped a 23-game home winning streak. The Buckeyes are 82-65 in the all-time series, with a 27-43 mark in Madison. Ohio State is 5-2 against Wisconsin when both teams are ranked. Jared Sullinger averages 20 points and 10 rebounds against Bucky, with William Buford adding 12.7 points and five boards. Still, not many expect the Buckeyes to escape the Kohl with a W.
The Badger offense starts with senior point guard Jordan Taylor (#11) and his team-leading 14.1 points per game. He also distributes the ball well, with 99 assists against only 32 turnovers, second in the B1G only to Nerdwestern’s Dave Sobolewski in assist/turnover ratio. Taylor is a good defender, with 23 steals on the season, good for second on the team, and 4.2 boards per outing. The other main concern for Ohio State will be the emerging Jared Berggren (#40), who scores 10.5 points and pulls down 5.1 rebounds per contest. His 25 steals leads the team and the 6-10 redshirt junior forward/center is emerging as the new Jon Leuer, with his triple-threat ability to play in the paint, cut to the basket or drain a three-pointer (35.5% this season). Berggren is third in the B1G in blocks with 37. Junior guard/forward Ryan Evans (#5) adds 9.8 points per game and is fourth in the conference in rebounding (6.7 per game), with 5.1 of those coming on the defensive glass.
Starting sophomore guard Josh Gasser (#21) adds 7.7 points per game and is the B1G’s third-leading long-range shooter, hitting 28-57 (49.1%) beyond the arc, but fellow sophomore Ben Brust (#1) has drained 44 treys this season (38.6%), the fifth-most in the league. At 9.3 points per game, Brust is easily Wisconsin’s most dangerous bench player. Mike (Gingerwitz) Breusewitz (#31), who has shaved off the ginger clown hair, rounds out the starting lineup with 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
Ohio State wins if: it plays well for 40 minutes (meaning very limited turnovers, a good shooting percentage—probably above 50—and lock-down defense) and gets offensive contributions beyond Sullinger, Buford and DeShaun Thomas. The Buckeyes need Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., or someone off the bench to provide some unexpected points to survive the Kohl. That building has been a house of horrors for Ohio State and I’m honestly not expecting a win the way Wisconsin has been playing defense, but a victory is possible if the Buckeyes play hard throughout and execute on both ends of the floor. This means they can’t afford to waste possessions. If pressed for one guy who can turn the tide, I’d say Lenzelle Smith Jr. has to have a big game for Ohio State to win it.
Wisconsin wins if: it maintains the status quo on defense, hits a decent percentage from three-point range and rebounds well. The Badgers will ride the momentum of their home crowd as they often do, which means Ohio State will need to just stay in the game in the first half to have a chance. It’s tough to beat the Badgers if they build a big lead, because they have that watching-paint-dry, clock-bleeding style of deliberate offense and they play very good defense. Surprisingly, Wisconsin is 11th in the B1G in steals despite being a good defensive squad. If the Badgers force more than 10 turnovers, it would probably spell disaster for Ohio State.
Notes: The Buckeyes are 4-2 against ranked teams this season, but both of those losses were on the road (Kansas, Indiana)…A win would give Matta 12 consecutive 20-win seasons…Buford needs two points to pass Jay Burson for seventh on the all-time OSU scoring list. In sixth is Jim Jackson, who is 30 points ahead of Buford.