That doesn’t mean it’s not a big game. For Ohio State, it’s the final regular-season test in a season full of ups and downs, a chance to show against No. 6 Wisconsin that the Buckeyes are playing the way they need to be as the postseason approaches. A win would give Ohio State a four-game winning streak and allow the Buckeyes to improve to 3-2 against ranked opponents this season.
“It’s about us getting better,” Sam Thompson said Saturday. “We always say it’s too late now to be taking steps backwards. We really have to be hitting our stride and playing our best basketball. Tomorrow is another opportunity to do that against a great team.
“I think it will be a good indicator. Like we’ve been saying, Wisconsin is obviously a great team, they’re a tournament tested team, they’re a team that since we came in has been one of the teams that has really stayed at the top of the Big Ten. I think it will be good to see where we are heading in to the postseason tournaments. It will be a big game for us.”
Wisconsin brings in the bulk of a roster that advanced to the Final Four a year ago. The Badgers have imposed their will on the conference, going 15-2 in league play with one of those losses coming without star Frank Kaminsky. They have benefited from an uneven conference slate as they played Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska and Minnesota – teams with a combined 20-48 record in the Big Ten – twice each. Wisconsin has only defeated one ranked team this season, a 32-point win over then-No. 25 Iowa.
The Badgers are led by Kaminsky as the 7-foot senior is in contention for national player of the year awards and a sure bet to be an All-American. He averages 18.4 points per game and 8.2 rebounds a contest.
“Try to get him out of his rhythm, make things difficult for him early on and see where that takes him,” senior center Amir Williams said of defending the Wisconsin big man. “Try to make things difficult on him throughout the whole game, not give him any easy looks, contest all his shots and just be physical.”
Kaminsky is a matchup nightmare. Despite his height, the senior is connecting on over 42 percent of his three-point shots. He has been held to single digits just once this season, a six-point performance against Georgetown in late November.
While Kaminsky is the headliner, the Badgers are more than their star center. Wisconsin the top team in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. That offensive excellence is attributed to the Badgers balance as Sam Decker (13.2) and Nigel Hayes (12.1) join Kaminsky as double-digit scorers.
“Obviously, you’ve got to do a great job defending, you’ve got to be very patient,” head coach Thad Matta said. “They’re a veteran basketball team that is very sound in terms of what they do. Defensively, what you see is what you get. They’re gonna sit and keep you in front, wall you up, play physical and — I don’t know how many times we’ve played Wisconsin in the time I’ve been here but it’s another Wisconsin basketball team that is very, very talented. Probably one of the best ones I’ve seen.”
An Ohio State win would push Matta to 298 for his Buckeye career, setting the record for most coaching wins in program history. He is currently tied with Fred Taylor for the most in program history. It would also push the coach to 400 career coaching wins and a perfect 14-0 at Ohio State in March home games.
Matta, however, isn’t worried about history. He’s worried about Wisconsin and his players agree.
“They’re a team that we have to be patient with,” Shannon Scott said. “We can’t try to force anything, we can’t make any careless plays because they will take advantage of it. We have to take care of the ball.
“They’re the Big Ten champs so it’s going to be a great game for us. We’re all going to find out how we can control the game against great teams. We’ve played some good teams this year, but Wisconsin right now is playing the best basketball and we have to find out how we play against them.”