Men's hoops: Challenge awaits in Columbus

Ohio State's Terence Dials looms large Sunday; OSU, banned from postseason, is "on a mission"

In the first meeting between Wisconsin and Ohio State on Jan. 11, the Buckeyes' Terence Dials showed why he is one of the most improved post players in the conference.

Dials led Ohio State with 15 points on 6 of 13 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds as the Buckeyes surprisingly stayed with the Badgers until the final minute of the game in the Kohl Center. UW's only real answer for Dials was to get him in foul trouble – he played just 24 minutes before fouling out for the first and only time this season.

Dials' presence down low and his effectiveness in the paint was much of the reason for the Buckeyes' strong play on the night and it has been a major reason for the team's success on the year as well.

"Dials is probably one of the most improved big men in the country," UW assistant coach Greg Gard said. "He works as hard as anyone and it's paying off for him. With Dials in the middle, they've been able to stay pretty consistent with that post presence."

After receiving a medical redshirt his true sophomore season, Dials returned to the hardwood last year to contribute 10.4 points and 6.6 rebounds for OSU. This year the 6-foot-9, 255-pound junior has improved his production to 15.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. In addition, the big man is shooting an impressive 57 percent from the field.

Dials ranks in the top seven in the Big Ten in those three categories yet he is often overlooked when the top post players in the conference are recognized.

However, the Badgers know following the first match-up with Dials that he will be a handful Sunday and they will make a concerted effort to slow down the forward from the start.

"They have a lot of talent on that team and it certainly starts with him," Gard said. "They're aggressive, they attack people, do a great job of spreading the floor and Dials is just a load inside. We're going to have set the tone early and attack early. Any time you go on the road you try to establish the post game because it can be the most consistent to you. You can't always rely on 25-footers going in and shooting 3s. They've shot a lot of 3s at times, especially early in the year. But as they got into conference play, they've really gone to Dials a lot. And I'm sure they'll try to establish him and get him going."

As potent and effective as Dials has been in finishing once the ball gets into his hands on the low block, he is also one of the league's best rebounders.

On they year, the Buckeyes' captain has snatched more offensive and defensive rebounds than anyone on the Wisconsin side. Senior Mike Wilkinson leads the Badgers with 7.2 boards per contest and sophomore Alando Tucker adds 6.7 per game.

In losing their past two road games, the Badgers were pounded on the glass at Michigan State Thursday and were also out-rebounded at Illinois.

Wisconsin believes that can change Sunday if they can control Dials.

Tucker, who missed the first meeting between the two teams with a leg injury, acknowledges the Badgers will try and take a similar approach in slowing down Dials in Columbus as they did in Madison. Whether it takes two or even three guys, the Badgers will try and work Dials down low and get him into foul trouble again. In the first showdown, Dials' effectiveness was limited because of his foul trouble early and again in the second half.

"Terrance Dials, he's gotten a lot better with post-up game and his decision making," Tucker said. "We were fortunate to get him into foul trouble. That played into our advantage big time. They're going to try and keep him in the game as much as possible because he was effective when he played. We have to make sure we work him the whole game and get some early fouls on him again."

Playing with nothing to lose

With the announcement in December that Ohio State had banned itself from any postseason play this year, the Buckeyes could have tossed this season to the wayside.

However, to their credit, head coach Thad Matta and his group took a serious negative and ultimately turned it into a positive. To date, the Buckeyes are 18-9 overall and 7-6 in conference play but more impressive is the fact that Ohio State is just an eyelash away from third place in the conference.

"They are a team that's on a mission," Gard said. "Every game for them during their regular season and in the Big Ten Tournament is their postseason. It would have been very easy for them to tank it and cash in once they found out there was no postseason for them, but they've turned that into a positive and are making the most of it. They're playing extremely well."

Credit Matta and his coaching staff for the motivational job they have done in preparing the Buckeyes for competition. However, for Matta the credit goes to the leadership of some of older players on this year's team.

"I would say across the board our guys have done a tremendous job," Matta said. "Attitude has been one thing that I haven't, you know, knock on wood, that I haven't had to be concerned about. That's been a little bit of a surprise with the announcement in December. Honestly everybody across the board has just done a tremendous [job] of staying the course and really embraced what we've talked about and that's just trying to get a little bit better every day."

"Right now we are sitting where we would be a postseason [team], we would be playing in some postseason right now," Matta added. "I think that's what sparked us a little bit from the standpoint of we did it, now let's don't stop here. Continue to play the best basketball that we can."

Winning six of their last eight games, the Buckeyes players have played with the nothing to lose and it has paid off. Moreover, they play with an attitude and style every team likes to play with this late in a season.

"That's just players playing hard," Tucker said. "You get your team to play hard no matter what goals are. As long as they're playing hard for you it contributes to their work ethic and heart. They don't care about rankings, don't care about anything. They're just coming out like, ‘Hey, we're a basketball team and we play.' That's how every team should play."

What: Wisconsin (8-5 Big Ten, 17-7 Overall) at Ohio State (7-6, 18-9)
When: Sunday, Feb. 27, 1:00 p.m.
Where: Value City Arena (19,200), Columbus, Ohio
Broadcast: The game will be televised on ESPN Plus and can also be heard live on the Wisconsin Radio Network.
Series Notes: This will be the 140th meeting between the two teams. Ohio State leads the all-time series 80-59 and holds a 50-19 advantage in games played in Columbus.

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