Ohio State Meets Wisconsin for Big Ten Title

Today at 3:30 pm, Ohio State (29-3) meets Wisconsin (29-4) for the Big Ten Tournament Championship and right to be a 30-game winner. It's a rubber match between the two teams, who split the season series. But with all that's on the line, it won't mean nearly as much as basketball analysts will tell you this afternoon. Kyle Lamb explains.

Don't let the talking heads fool you: today's game between Wisconsin and Ohio State is little more than a ratings splash and sensational segue to the NCAA Tournament selection show.

But don't let that drag you down, either.

When the Big Ten's two best teams collide today at 3:30 pm, it will be a fitting rematch between two teams that played to a 49-48 rugby final two weeks ago. No. 1 Ohio State and No. 3 Wisconsin will play a rubber match that analysts would like to bill as being, "for a No. 1 seed in the big dance."

That's a myth.

The reality is that the 10-man NCAA Tournament selection committee is more likely collectively eating ice cream, an annual tradition, sharing a laugh over their latest work by the time the game ends than having meaningful debate. That flies in the face of the belief that somehow they crumple their papers at 5:30 eastern and go back to the drawing board based on the ultimate result of the Big Ten Championship game.

If Wisconsin is to earn a No. 1-seed early this evening, it will have already done so after an impressive victory over Illinois Saturday in the semifinals. Likewise, any talk of an overall No. 1 for Ohio State will be based on what the Buckeyes have done over the course of 32 games and not one last gasp this afternoon.

Besides, what more does Ohio State have to do? The Buckeyes won the outright Big Ten Title by two whole games. Ohio State has a 15-game win streak heading into today's ice cream social against the Badgers and have lost only to the teams ranked No. 2, No. 4 and No. 7 in the RPI.

If Wisconsin wins this afternoon, it will be a justifiable feather under the cap. The runner-up in the regular season standings would have two victories against Ohio State, including one on a neutral court - an impressive portion of a resume that makes a quality argument for a No. 1.

This afternoon in Chicago, both teams will have their collective hands full.

Ohio State is noticeably a different team, even in the last few games, than it was two weeks ago. Greg Oden has taken his game to another level this past week and the Buckeyes appear to be direcint the entire offense through him.

On the other hand, Wisconsin won't be a picnic.

The Badgers are playing without 6-11 Brian Butch, who disclocated his elbow against the Buckeyes two weeks ago. Despite the injury, Wisconsin believes it should have won in Columbus and Ohio State will be hard pressed to limit Big Ten Player of the Year Alando Tucker to 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting like it did in the last meeting.

In the last two games, Oden has recorded 39 points, grabbed 27 rebounds and blocked eight shots. Not to be outdone, Tucker has scored 42 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and shot 15-of-31 from the field in his two games in Chicago this weekend. Oden has raised his averages to 15.7 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Tucker is scoring 20.2 per game.

For Wisconsin, it's the third trip to the championship game and all three in the last four years. The Badgers knocked off No. 1 seed Illinois 70-53 in 2004 and lost to Illinois in 2005. Ohio State has won the tournament one time (2002) and finished runner-up in 2003 and 2006.

Beyond the final result, there's really very little shock likely hiding around the corner.

Ohio State will earn a No. 1-seed in either the East region (East Rutherford, N.J.) or Midwest region (St. Louis). They'll play the first and second round games in likely Lexington, Ky. or possibly back in Chicago. Likewise, the Badgers are most likely heading down the road to Chicago either as a No. 1, or more likely a No. 2-seed.

Today's showdown is exciting, but other than playing for pride - practically meaningless. It can be debated ad nauseum whether it's right or wrong, who's fault it is and what the motivation is for playing so late, but when the committee is slurping down hot fudge sundaes, the Buckeyes and Badgers are likely to be playing in another slugfest.

But hey, none of the fine executives at CBS are complaining. Just don't let today persuade you into thinking it means much.

When the ball tips, it will mean everything.


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