Red-hot OSU visiting Kohl Center

In the topsy-turvy Big Ten, the Buckeyes are currently the league's best team. Wisconsin looks to knock them down a peg

Exactly one week after the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team righted its proverbial ship—and brought order to its home den — with a convincing win over a ranked Indiana squad, another team of red floods the already cardinal Kohl court during this Valentine week.

But looking back in hindsight, one might consider the Hoosiers somewhat of a Buckeye Lite. That is, because Ohio State is the current "it" team in the Big Ten. The Badgers were "it" for a while. So was Illinois, then Michigan, then Iowa. Now it is Ohio State — elevated on ESPN to a projected tournament two seed after a pair of highly impressive nationally televised wins over former "it" teams last week — the Wolverines and Illini.

As for being "Indiana XL", the Buckeyes do a lot of the same things Badger fans were warned to look out for when IU arrived last week. They shoot the 3 — scary well. Ohio State currently ranks second in the nation in 3-point percentage at .428, upping that rate a tick in conference play to .437.

Also like the Hoosiers, they have a number of players who can beat you from beyond that arc. In fact, during conference play the Buckeyes comprise five of the top eight long-distance men in the Big Ten — all of them shooting better than 44 percent. In comparison, the Badgers as a team have shot worse from the entire floor (.433) since Big Ten play began than Ohio State has from deep.

Sophomore guard Jamar Butler and senior guard Je'Kel Foster lead the way with .552 and .492 marks respectively. The duo was a large reason why the hot-handed Buckeyes were able to sweep last week off the long ball. Butler captured Big Ten player of the week honors after shooting 71 percent from the floor and 7 of 8 from deep in averaging 21 points. In addition, Butler ranks second in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio, spreading the wealth with 4.8 assists per game.

Behind Butler and Foster — the team's leading scorer (14.9 per game) — guard J.J. Sullinger and forwards Ivan Harris and Ron Lewis also sit among the conference leaders in long-range firing. That list also leaves out starting forward Matt Sylvester, who is usually one to step outside and knock down one or two per game.

The fact that teams know by now that it is coming has not helped them cool down those shooters. With eight days to prepare for the Buckeyes last week, Illini coach Bruce Weber stressed how important it was to cover the perimeter shooting, only to go into Columbus and watch his opponents bury 13 triples.

"Those were tough shots," said UW assistant coach Greg Gard. "They hit some shots that were well beyond — four or five feet beyond — the arc, with guys right on them. You could tell with Foster that anything he touched was going to keep going up, and he was going to keep shooting it until he missed. You've got to like that confidence.

"But I thought Illinois for the most part did a pretty good job on the perimeter."

Commit too much to the outside, however, and it becomes a "pick your poison" game. Just as the Hoosiers moved the ball through big man Marco Killingsworth to complete a true inside-outside game, Ohio State will again rely on post-man Terence Dials to continue the better brand of basketball he has played all season — including in a January victory over the Badgers.

Dials went 7-for-10 in that first meeting, scoring his 15 points in a balanced Buckeye attack.

"Dials got free on the inside," Gard said. "I think as the game went on we started to press out more on the perimeter and again he was able to take advantage of some mistakes on the inside, and that's what good teams with good players do."

As Gard said, this time Wisconsin needs to make sure it does not have a crack in its armor defensively by covering up and switching on screens. The Badgers played tight with OSU for much of the game, and were tied at halftime. But then they made some mistakes on screens outside, got discombobulated on an out of bounds play that led to a Foster 3 and played from a few points behind down the stretch.

Things went a bit differently for both teams following that first matchup on Jan. 18. For Wisconsin, it was its first game adjusting to life without Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma — at that point a mystery and perhaps a distraction. The Badgers dropped five of six starting with that game, and enter Wednesday on their first winning streak since, having claimed two straight victories.

For the Buckeyes it has been a nearly flawless run since. Coach Thad Matta has his players primed for a Big Ten title run one year earlier than anticipated, with the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation waiting in the wings. OSU has reeled off 6 of 7, losing only to Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where the first-place Hawkeyes are perfect this season.

After abusing the Michigan defense in the Wolverines' own arena and dismantling a then-top 10 team in Columbus Sunday, the Buckeyes — winners of four straight and owners of just three losses this season by a combined ten points — will be riding a wave of confidence.

"I wouldn't say that they are unique, but the way they are playing is, they are getting results," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "Whenever you get results you tend to look unique because you're winning more than the other people.

"By being able hit the 3 — and you've got Dials inside — that's that inside-outside attack. We're all searching for that. Ohio State has it going now."

Gard stressed that a team does not really change its defensive rules but adjusts based on certain principles to make teams do what they would like. But he does think the Buckeyes present a similar type of challenge to that of IU, albeit a potentially more potent attack. Wisconsin was able to hold Indiana to just 54 points on 29 percent shooting.

"You've got to make them do what you want them to do," guard Michael Flowers said. "You can't let them dictate what they want to do with the ball out there. Because once you are on your heels then it's over. They can pull it from anywhere, so you just have to be ready and aggressive."

If anyone doubted it beforehand, the Big Ten season is long. Things change. After round one, the Badgers were the team to beat at 4-0 in the conference. Now the Buckeyes are the squad of the moment — which is sometimes just a blink in this conference. If Wisconsin can return the favor and protect its own floor, it could make for an interesting title run — one that may indeed not get settled on the court until the conference tournament in March.


Wisconsin gets its first chance to avenge an earlier loss on Wednesday night, as the Buckeyes enter town with the most prolific (78.9 points per game) and productive (1.13 points per possession) offense in the Big Ten.

Both teams enter with winning streaks, but the Buckeyes blew up last week by shooting just a shade under 60 percent from 3-point range in what could be described as a prolonged scoring clinic.

The Badgers do rebound better than Ohio State and get to the free throw line much more frequently. They will need to do both of those things well on Wednesday by minimizing second-chance opportunities for OSU on long rebounds and attacking the Buckeyes' smaller interior lineup in the paint.

Alando Tucker had his way with Indiana last week, slashing and scoring at will for the Badgers. He will need to do more of the same and get off a great number of looks, as he did when he shot the ball 22 times in the game at Columbus. In that one, however, he missed some short-range shots in the second half that he will need to connect on in his home gym.

Last week we spoke of the Hoosiers' ability to go on runs that the Badgers would need to weather. It turned out that those hot streaks never really came, barring a few baskets midway through the first half. Wisconsin would be lucky to draw such a cold opponent again or reap the benefit of foul trouble to Dials, as Killingsworth got in last week.

So again the Badgers will need to be able to answer stride for stride the runs Ohio State shooters are capable of going on, while at the same time not getting too caught up that they divert from their game plan. Last week Ray Nixon was that third guy outside the Tucker-Taylor combo to step up with some critical shots. Saturday at Penn State it was Brian Butch who put together a career game. The Badgers will need one of those two to step to the forefront with a 15-point performance or better in this one.

Joe Krabbenhoft hauled in 13 rebounds last go round against OSU and this time is joined by Kevin Gullikson — stretching the normal Badger rotation to at least eight from the seven that were used in Columbus. Inside production — offensively and defensively — from those two will be key.

Overall, the Buckeyes are the hotter team and if they played the way they did in a hostile environment in Ann Arbor last week, the Badgers would be hard-pressed to contain them. But based on the Big Ten law of averages and the record of the conference's top seven at home, we think this one might be a toss-up.

If there is anything that is difficult in this conference, winning five in a row, taking two straight on the road and doing anything at the Kohl Center are among the toughest tasks. Likewise, the Buckeye guards likely cannot shoot 70 percent forever, and a case of the Kohl Center clanks might be what brings them back to Earth.

Ohio State has done no worse than go down to the wire in every game it has played this season, but if there is one final thing that is difficult to do against Wisconsin under Bo Ryan it is sweep them — something that only last year's national runner-up Illinois has been able to do.

The pick: Wisconsin 77 Ohio State 72

Matt Lewis, a frequent contributor to Badger Nation, is the editor of creative sportswriting site

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