Monday, Badger Nation put up part one of the preview of tonight's important Big Ten match-up between Ohio State and Wisconsin. Today, Scout.com released part two of that preview going over the Ohio State starting five as well as breaking down what to expect when each team has the ball.
Ohio State Projected Starting Five
Point guard Mike Conley (6-1 freshman)
How do you take Jamar Butler, arguably the best point guard in the Big Ten last season and have the audacity to move him off the ball? Answer - by inserting Conley. The spark plug Conley has silenced critics, the ones that claimed he was simply "feeding off Greg Oden's hype," and turned himself into one of the better point guards in the country. Conley's game is breaking down defenders and either getting to the rim or creating open looks for his teammates by kicking it back out for an easy shot. Conley is scoring 9.1 points a game (shooting 50.5 percent from the floor), 3.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.9 turnovers and 2.7 steals. The one weak spot in Conley's armour is that he's only shooting 4-of-23 from 3-point range.
Shooting guard Jamar Butler (6-2 junior)
Butler has been the missing link to the Ohio State offense at times during the 2006-07 season as he adjusts to his new role. However, Butler has scored double-figures in the first two Big Ten games of the season for the Buckeyes, upping his average back up to 7.7 points a game. His 3-point shooting percentage, which was down to 35 percent, is now back to 39.8 percent. Butler is still averaging 4.2 asissts a game to just 1.5 turnovers. His continued improvement off the ball is critical to Ohio State's success.
Forward Ron Lewis (6-5 senior)
Following a three-game spurt where Lewis scored just 19 points, including a shutout against Coppin State - the first of his career, he has ended the question "where has Lewis been," being echoed by Ohio State fans. Lewis was in a terrible shooting slump where he couldn't buy a bucket for the longest time, watching his 3-point shooting percentage drop radically from over 50 percent in early December to 36.4 percent. Making matters worse, Lewis had not been penetrating much, if any, leaving him one-dimensional. In the past two games against Indiana and Illinois, Lewis has only been 4-of-13 from the field, but he's been attacking defenses slightly more. Lewis averages 13.1 points a game.
Power Forward Ivan Harris (6-8 senior)
The "microwave," as they call Harris, has not heated up as much as Ohio State would like recently. Harris is all-or-nothing from outside. When he's hot, he can carry Ohio State with the 3-pointer, and when he's not, he does not try to score from inside very often and usually brings only his defense (which isn't very effective most often) to the Buckeyes while he's on the floor. Harris is averaging 9.6 points and 4.0 rebounds a game while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range.
Center Greg Oden (7-1) freshman
Oden is the man that needs no introduction. Since making his debut for Ohio State, Oden has played in eight games. He averages 14.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.8 blocks a game. Making the feat more impressive than those numbers, and his 60.6 percent shooting from the floor, is the fact he's still playing with essentially one good hand. Oden continues to wear a protective brace on his right wrist - one that was recently downgraded to allow for more flexibility. However, he's still unable to shoot jump shots with his right hand and does not have great grip on the ball inside with his right hand. For now, he remains a left-handed player until Ohio State can gradually phase down his brace to allow for better movement and more use of his right.
Sixth Man Daequan Cook (6-5) freshman
Cook is more or less a sixth starter for Ohio State. He usually enters the game around the 16:30 mark of the first half, and in most every game this season, makes a splash immediately. Cook is the leading scorer for Ohio State, averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 rebounds a game while shooting an impressive 55.6 percent from the field, including 50.8 percent from 3-point range. Even more impressive, Cook is doing that in about 23.3 minutes a game for the Buckeyes. Cook is sometimes a liability on defense, however. When he loses focus, he allows easy baskets for the opposing team. Othello Hunter, a 6-9 junior has been having a breakout recently. Hunter also averages 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds for Ohio State in just 19.6 minutes a game. He's shooting 60 percent from the floor, giving Ohio State a powerful frontcourt combination when he's on the floor with Oden.
Ohio State offense againts Wisconsin defense
When Ohio State has the ball, they like the spread the floor to create isolation opportunities for their play-makers. The attention Oden draws underneath (usually double and triple teams) has created a lot of open outside looks for a very streaky shooting team. When Ohio State is shooting the ball well, the Buckeyes are very tough to stop as even the best perimeter defenders have a tough time prohibiting dribble-drives from Conley and Lewis.
However, the Wisconsin defense is very disciplined defensively. The Badgers, under head coach Bo Ryan, do a terrific job of help defense as well as rotating when the ball is moving around the perimeter. Since Oden returned, Ohio State has run a very pro-style of offense, which does not have a ton of movement away from the ball. Most of their offense consists of ball screens and spacing, which hasn't been to Thad Matta's liking.
Physically, watch for Wisconsin's ability to stop Oden underneath. Unlike Illinois and Florida, Wisconsin doesn't necessarily have the big, strong, physical and athletic frontcourt players to be a nuissance against Oden, so they will have to rely on guys like Brian Butch, Jason Chappell and Greg Steimsma off the bench. If they can limit Oden's touches, Wisconsin will sink or swim with Ohio State's ability (or inability) to shoot from the outside. The "sagging" defense should also clog the lane enough to help avoid penetration by Conley.
Wisconsin must also be concerned with fouls in the frontcourt. The Badgers' lack of physical big men does not afford Wisconsin a lot of leeway to draw fouls.
Wisconsin offense against Ohio State defense
As it typically goes, Alando Tucker will be the focal point of the Ohio State defense. In an ideal world, Ohio State would love nothing more than for Oden to set up a tent and camp out down in the paint, awaiting Tucker or anyone else to attempt to score down low. Tucker's game is getting down inside the defense and finishing in traffic with his explosiveness off the dribble and athleticism. Oden obviously changes and alters many shots of undersized forwards when he's at liberty to swat shots down in the paint and if he's avoided foul trouble.
But this isn't a perfect world.
Bo Ryan runs the swing offense for a reason. It usually is quite successful. The makeup of the offense means that Oden will sometimes be drawn outside his comfort zone. This season, Ohio State has struggled at times when Oden has been forced to guard his man 20-feet away from the basket. The Buckeyes have especially been vulnerable to the high screen and the hedge by Oden, where he's been slow to recover back to his man in the corner - which has allowed some easy 3-pointers by the soft-shooting big men he's faced. That's a luxury Wisconsin may exploit tonight with 6-11 Brian Butch, who is shooting over 50 percent from the field.
Look for Ohio State to play tough man defense against Kammron Taylor on the perimeter. The Buckeyes have a terrific defensive tandem in Butler and Conley, and it's usually been the wings of opposing teams that do the damage from outside, as Lewis, Cook and Harris are not great defenders.
Ohio State would like to make Butch score from inside and Tucker score from outside.
This is the type of game Ohio State head coach Thad Matta needs to win more often. The energetic Matta has some big wins under his belt in seven seasons as a head coach, including wins against a perfect No. 1-ranked team in back-to-back seasons (St. Joe's while at Xavier and Illinois in his first year at Ohio State), but his teams sometimes falter to a well-coached disciplined team that has the talent to match-up. Bo Ryan and Wisconsin has been somewhat of an enigma at times to Ohio State, and this game could be no exception.
Matta's teams have a very basic offense that relies on ball movement and penetration, as well as good shooting. When any of those basic facets are not going well, the Buckeyes are very easy to guard despite their incredible talent. Matta's teams must be more consistently focused and multi-dimensional.
Defensively, Matta likes to exclusively play man. About the only time he ever plays a zone is to extend a full, three-quarter or half-court trap, creating ball pressure against teams that struggle with their ball-handling or decision-making. The standard 2-3 zone has not been very effective in Matta's tenure, largely because they don't play it very often and some of the players they have on the roster tend to fall asleep at the wheel. Matta is also sometimes stubborn against going to a zone, unless it's to protect his team from foul trouble or man-to-man is simply not working.
This is a game that Ohio State has the talent to overwhelm Wisconsin if everything is clicking, but the Badgers are also the kind of team that can frustrate Ohio State for 40 minutes and win going away if Ohio State doesn't react.
Ohio State has been up and down in big road games this season. Without Oden, they shocked the world for about 30 minutes in Chapel Hill, only to eventually wear-out and falter down the stretch. Against Florida, they were blitzed out of the building and their egos were put in check, even with Oden, by a better, quicker and more disciplined Gator club that played it's game of the year. Finally against Illinois, Ohio State used streaky shooting and solid defense to escape Champaign with a rare 18-point victory against an Illini team that couldn't make any shots.
This is a real test for Ohio State to prove they can beat a great team on the road. This game, unlike the previous two top-five showdowns, will have more than just pride on the line because it's for a leg-up in the Big Ten Championship race.
Look for Ohio State to pass the morale test of competing neck-and-neck with an elite team on the road, but look for them to fail to win the game in a tight contest.
Wisconsin 85 - Ohio State 81