Game of the Week: #1 Wisconsin at #2 Ohio State (Sunday, February 25th, 4:00 PM, CBS)
#1 vs. #2. It’s not often you get to see the two top-ranked teams in the country go against each other in a game that matters not only on a national level, but in the midst of a conference title race. Moreover, this game will have a direct effect on who receives a #1 seed come March. On the other hand, though, the “#1 vs. #2” hype machine may just be for show. Are Wisconsin and Ohio State the two best teams in the country? Probably not (especially after Wisky’s loss to Michigan State). Additionally, #1 vs. #2 match-ups rarely live up the hype. Just look at Texas-Duke last year, or Wake Forest-Illinois the season before. This game will be different, though. Both teams have already played each other this season, resulting in a three-point win by the Badgers at home. Expect more of the same in this one, especially when one looks at what is at stake. You might not see a better game until, well, the next time these two teams play—likely the Big Ten Tournament final.
Wisconsin has been one of the most overlooked teams in the country all season, despite their lofty ranking at this point in the season. They are one game back of Ohio State in the Big Ten standings, and a loss on Sunday to the Buckeyes would relegate them to second in the conference heading into the tournament.. Ranked #5 in the RPI, Wisconsin is 26-3 overall (12-2 in the Big Ten) and have looked very impressive all season long. The Badgers started off the season with four straight wins before falling by one to Missouri State at the South Padre Invitational in Texas. After that loss, though, they ran off 17 straight wins, including victories over Florida State, Winthrop, Pittsburgh, Marquette (on the road), Georgia (on the road), Ohio State, and several other solid teams. They streak was snapped in Indiana with a five-point loss to the Hoosiers, but they won their next 5 games against mediocre Big Ten competition. They aren’t coming into the OSU game with momentum, though, after Tuesday’s loss to Michigan State. The Badgers average over 73 points per game, second in the conference, but allow just less than 58 a contest, good enough for the #13 ranking nationally. Wisconsin is also ranked #8 in the country in scoring margin. Ken Pomeroy has the Badgers as the 10th-most efficient offensive team in the country, and the 8th-most efficient defensive team.
Ohio State has been one of the best teams in the country all season long, and has not disappointed those that constantly praised them in the preseason. They are one game up on Wisconsin for first-place in the Big Ten, and a win here would clinch the regular season title. Ranked #3 in the RPI, Ohio State is 25-3 overall (13-1 in the Big Ten) and have only lost to teams ranked in the Top 5 of the polls. The Buckeyes started the season with seven easy wins before heading to Chapel Hill and falling to North Carolina in an entertaining game. Four wins followed the loss, but OSU was thoroughly dominated by 26 in Gainesville by the defending champions, Florida. They won their next three, including two Big Ten wins over Indiana and Illinois, but they lost their ensuing game at Wisconsin. The Buckeyes won their next game, over Tennessee, which remains their only good non-conference win. They have since won 12 in a row in the Big Ten to pass Wisconsin in the conference standings. Ohio State averages almost 76 points per game, best in the Big Ten, and gives up just over 61 a contest. They are #9 in the country in scoring margin. According to Ken Pomeroy, the Buckeyes have the 3rd-most efficient offense and the 17th-most efficient defense in the country.
Wisconsin Team Breakdown
Wisconsin was somewhat overshadowed in the Big Ten heading into the season by Ohio State and their influx of talented freshmen. That has continued lately, especially with the recent dominance of Greg Oden. Wisconsin is not an explosive offensive team, but they have several options and are a disciplined, well-coached team. They run the “swing” offense, hoping to find a mismatch somewhere along the way. All five players can play inside and out, making it difficult for opponents to match-up them. Their defense is also very solid. The Badgers have plenty of big bodies down low that can block shots, and good on-ball defenders out on the perimeter. They have allowed only two teams to reach 70 points this season, and have held seven teams to 50 points or less. Moreover, the Badgers have plenty of depth. Wisconsin is one of the most complete teams in the country.
Alando Tucker is clearly the go-to-guy on this team. Tucker is one of the best scoring forwards in the country and could be the most versatile scorer in all of college basketball. He's not an outstanding shooter but he has excellent body control and creates mismatches with his size and scoring ability. He can take over a game at any time, and is also a decent rebounder and passer. He had scored at least 20 points in seven consecutive games before his 16-point outing against Michigan State, and had at least 6 rebounds in all but one of those games. Tucker and Texas’ Kevin Durant are the two favorites for Player of the Year. Joining Tucker up front is former McDonald’s All-America Brian Butch. He has yet to live up to the hype he had coming out of high school, but he has developed into a solid post player. He is capable of getting a double-double on a given night, but is more of a 10-point, 6-rebound-type of player. The problem with Butch is that he is extremely inconsistent on the offensive end. He had 27 points and 11 rebounds against Pittsburgh back in December, but had 0 points and 4 rebounds in the first match-up with Ohio State. If he ever becomes the third option Wisconsin needs on offense, the Badgers will be very tough to beat in March. Jason Chappell rounds out the starting trio. He is a good role player who provides good rebounding and defense. He has scored in double-figures in only one game this year, and does not play many minutes, but he does all the little things up front. Marcus Landry is an intriguing player up front. He is very athletic and can score in a variety of ways. He has shown flashes of excellence throughout his short career with the Badgers, and just needs to develop a consistent offensive game. He can block shots with the best of them, and is a good rebounder. In the first match-up with Ohio State, Landry had 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 blocks, and played excellent against Greg Oden. Jason Krabbenhoft is another solid player in the frontcourt. The 6-7 forward is the team’s third-leading rebounder and is a good defender up front. He takes care of the ball and has decent range offensively. He had nine rebounds against Ohio State. Greg Stiemsma averages under ten minutes per game, but is a serviceable role player in the paint. He will use up some fouls guarding Oden.
The backcourt is led by Kammron Taylor. He can play both guard spots, and is the team’s best perimeter scorer. Taylor is a very good three-point shooter who can get hot from behind the arc. He is also a decent defender and a good passer. He also has developed consistency as the season goes on. He had three single-digit scoring games in his first five contests, but has had only three since then. His ability to score off the dribble and with his jump-shot takes some of the pressure off of Tucker. He is 9 for 15 from behind the arc in his last three games. Taylor led the Badgers with a season-high 25 points against Ohio State. Michael Flowers lines up next to Taylor in the backcourt. He contributes in nearly every way for the Badgers, and might be the best defender on the team. Flowers takes care of the ball, and can knock down the three on occasion. He can score (21 points vs. Winthrop), rebound (7 boards vs. Penn State), pass (6 assists twice this year), and get in the passing lanes (5 steals twice this year). He is a much underrated player in terms of what he does for Wisconsin. Off the bench are two quality freshmen. Jason Bohannon is potentially a very good scorer. He can put up points in a variety of ways, and can also shoot well. He had a career-high 11 points last week against Penn State. Trevon Hughes is extremely quick backing up at the point guard spot. He can get into the lane against most people and create opportunities. His playing time has decreased lately, though.
Ohio State Team Breakdown
Ohio State was one of the most hyped teams in recent memory coming into the season due to the arrival of one of the best freshmen classes of all time, and, of course, Greg Oden. The Buckeyes are very good offensively, with options all over the court. They don’t turn the ball over very often, and can score inside and outside. OSU is very difficult to defend due to their ability to get points in a variety of ways. Defensively, the Buckeyes are underrated. They have great shot-blockers down low, enabling the perimeter players to get out on the opponent and force tough shots. OSU has allowed only one team (Wisconsin) to reach 70 points. They don’t have a lot of depth on the interior, so foul trouble is a problem. The Buckeyes are going to be a very tough out in the NCAA Tournament.
Greg Oden came into school as one of the most hyped players ever, drawing comparisons to Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, and seemingly every great big man of all time. However, his debut was delayed due to an injured right wrist. He is still not fully recovered, meaning that he has been dominating opponents with his off-hand. Think about that for a second. Oden is one of the best post defenders in college basketball, and is in the top five nationally in blocked shots. He is also a terrific rebounder, both offensively and defensively. Oden is efficient on the offensive end, and has the ability to score with both hands. He is an excellent finisher, but does lack a variety of post moves at this point in his career. His ability to find the open man once he sees a double-team needs to improve as well. Nonetheless, Oden is a future franchise player in the NBA. Starting next to him is senior Ivan Harris. The 6-7 lefty is more of a perimeter player, and is one of the better three-point shooters on the team. He is a decent rebounder who does not turn the ball over very often. He provides a veteran influence in the starting lineup, but does not really have a set role for the Buckeyes. Coming off the bench up front is JC transfer Othello Hunter. He kept Oden’s seat warm in the post while the freshman was recovering from injury, but he has made an impact even with Oden’s return. He can rebound very well, and is a good shot-blocker. Moreover, he has shown flashes of what he can do on the offensive end, and had 15 points last week against Penn State. Matt Terwilliger also sees double-figure minutes off the bench. His time has decreased since Oden’s return, but he provides rebounding and a little of everything.
The perimeter group for Ohio is deep and versatile. Freshman point guard Mike Conley has been overshadowed by Oden, but he is one of the best newcomers in the country. He is extremely quick with the ball, and is a terrific playmaker. He is in the top five nationally in assists, and can get into the lane on nearly any defender. Conley is also a very good defender, and gets into passing lanes well due to his length and quickness. He takes care of the ball, and is among the conference leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio. However, he is not a very good shooter, allowing defenders to sag off of him. Lining up next to him is junior Jamar Butler, last year’s starter at the point. He was one of the best point guards in the country heading into the season, but has taken a backseat to Conley and now plays on the wing. He is a very good three-point shooter, and provides a steadying influence on the court. He leads the team in minutes played, and hardly ever turns the ball over. He is also an excellent free-throw shooter. On the wing, freshman Daequan Cook and senior Ron Lewis are very good scorers. Both average over 11 points per game, but most of Cook’s production is off the bench. He is one of the best sixth men in the country, although he started last game. Cook is the best three-point shooter on the team, hitting almost 47% of his long-range bombs. The 6-5 wing is extremely athletic and is excellent in transition. He is also an underrated rebounder. He had 12 points and 10 rebounds off the bench in a win over Purdue in late January. Cook was also very important in the last game against Wisconsin, getting 9 rebounds in only 14 minutes. Lewis has become more of a go-to-guy since last season, and has developed into a very good wing scorer. He is not a great three-point shooter, but he can drive to the basket and knocks down enough jumpers to keep defenders honest. Lewis is adept at getting to the free-throw line. He scored 30 points against North Carolina earlier this season, but his production has fallen off since then. Lewis has hit double-figures in only 7 of 14 games in 2007. Lewis is a solid defender and rebounder. He knocked down the game-winner against Tennessee in January. Another freshman, David Lighty, provides another wing off the bench. He is extremely athletic, and is very strong, providing a contrast to the smaller Lewis and Cook. He is a good defender and a solid scorer.
This is going to be one of the best games of the season. Not only is it a #1 vs. #2 battle (or #1 vs. #1), but the winner has the inside track at the Big Ten Championship, and a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Both teams have Final Four dreams, and two of the best players in the country will be on the court this weekend. Wisconsin has quietly (relatively speaking, no #1 is that quiet) had a great season, while Ohio State has been in the media spotlight throughout the year. Despite Wisconsin’s loss to Michigan State taking some of the luster off this one, this one will go down to the wire—just like the first meeting.
For Wisconsin to get a huge road win Columbus, they will need to several things. Obviously, they will need to stop Greg Oden to have any chance of coming out with a victory. In the first meeting, they rotated several players on him, using up fouls and forcing him to work for every point. Marcus Landry used his athleticism, while bigger players like Jason Chappell used their size and strength. If they can limit his touches, it will be much easier for the Badgers. That’s easier said then done, though. Also on the defensive end, Wisconsin should force Mike Conley to shoot the ball. If he gets into the lane, the Buckeyes could get open shots all day. Both Michael Flowers and Kammron Taylor are good defenders who will need to play very well. Offensively, the best thing for the Badgers will be to get Oden in foul trouble, and force him out of the game. If that doesn’t happen, it will be tough to drive into the lane for baskets. Alando Tucker needs to play better than he did last game. He had 17 points, but he shot only 8 for 18. He is very difficult to stop on that end of the floor, and he should be able to get his points against Daequan Cook or Ron Lewis. He’s too strong for them. Kammron Taylor also needs to score well. He had 25 last game, which was huge. More importantly, the Badgers need a third option to step up. Marcus Landry and Michael Flowers both had 10 points last game, and Wisconsin will need more of the same.
In order for Ohio State to get revenge for the loss in Madison, they will obviously need to play better than they did last game. Getting Greg Oden the ball early and often will be key. He only took six shots last game, and a few of those were late in the game when Wisconsin only cared about the perimeter. He is too strong and athletic for anyone on Wisconsin, and needs to dominate the paint area. If he starts scoring inside, it will open up the perimeter for the wings. Also offensively, either Daequan Cook or Ron Lewis needs to provide consistent scoring from the perimeter. Both players have been off and on during Big Ten play, but they need to come through. The Buckeyes shot only 38% last game—they need to find better shots this time around. Defensively, Ohio State needs to stop Alando Tucker, first and foremost. Neither Daequan Cook or Ron Lewis is strong enough to defend him, although Ivan Harris is an option. If they force him into ten missed shots like they did last game, OSU will have an easier time winning. They also can’t allow Kammron Taylor to score 25 points, nor have four Badgers put up double-figures. Forcing Wisconsin to become one or two-dimensional makes them very predictable offensively. This game is going to come down to the final minutes, making free throws a big part of the outcome. Neither team shot better than 61% last game. Moreover, Wisconsin missed several late free throws, allowing Ohio State to make a late run. This time around, I don’t think that the Badgers are going to get enough offense outside of Tucker and Taylor. Also, Oden is much more dominant than he was a month ago. The Buckeyes get the win this time with the homecourt advantage.
Prediction: Ohio State 69, Wisconsin 66
Prediction Record: 8-3