The Buckeyes clinched sixth place Sunday with an improbable 65-64 home win over previously unbeaten and top-ranked Illinois (29-1, 15-1). Ohio State's win, on Matt Sylvester's 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left, snapped a two-game losing streak, including a 64-56 loss to visiting Wisconsin (20-7, 11-5) a week ago.
Ohio State and Penn State will tip off at 4:05 p.m. Thursday, in the third game at the United Center that day. The Nittany Lions have lost 11 straight games, including a pair versus the Buckeyes: a 68-62 loss in Columbus and a 66-56 decision in Happy Valley.
The Badgers swept their season series with Ohio State, also topping the Buckeyes 72-66 in Madison. UW went on the road for its only matchup with Penn State and prevailed, 76-50, Jan. 29.
After their senior-day win Saturday, the Badgers took Sunday off and will begin preparing for the conference tournament Monday.
"What we've done in the past is we'll do a little bit of both teams but mainly there's some things for us that we need to get better at and that's what's important," UW coach Bo Ryan said.
Wisconsin enters the tournament as the reigning Big Ten Tournament Champion, having won the event for the first time in school history last season.
"We just have to stay focused," sophomore forward Alando Tucker said. "We can't really pay attention to things like that because it's a new year."
The Badgers, who will travel to Chicago this week riding a three-game winning streak, know that it would take three straight victories to win the conference tournament.
"Just got to take it one game at a time and continue to work on keeping the ball moving and getting the ball inside and playing good ‘D,'" senior forward Mike Wilkinson said. "Just trying to stay sharp every time we stay on the floor."
"You can't look too far ahead, look at who we might play next," Tucker said. "Because every team is going to play hard. They are going to be ready from the start. And the level of intensity picks up here, from here on out."
For Ryan, Big Ten seeding irrelevant
Following Saturday's game, Ryan was asked how important it was for his team to close out the regular season with three straight wins to clinch the third seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
"I don't think anything about seeding," Ryan said. "Try to finish as high as you can in the league. It isn't to be seeded a certain place in the Big Ten Tournament. The Big Ten Tournament is a marketing thing for revenue and to keep basketball going and keep the atmosphere. It's good for basketball, all that stuff…
"But, during the year, we don't even talk about the Big Ten Tournament. It's what's next after this, now. Now, we talk about the Big Ten Tournament. But, we never confuse the two. It's the regular season. Conference championships to me are still the biggest thing going because it's local rivalries. Teams playing against one another, usually in a certain geographical area… So, that's all we think about is conference."
However, that does not mean the Badgers will take the event lightly.
"Why would you get into anything without the idea of winning it, without planning to win it?," Ryan asked rhetorically. "You never go into any type of tournament or anything without the idea that ‘OK, here's what we got to do [to win].'"