Grimyser: Pondering Possible Pitfalls

As the Badgers pulled in yet another easy win against Penn State, their true test has yet to come. Wisconsin's upcoming challenge is to win difficult games away from the Kohl Center. Their rematch at Ohio State will prove which heavyweight is the best team in the Big Ten.

MADISON - If you judge championship potential by experience, Wisconsin is the best team in the Big Ten. But are they a true champion, which ultimately comes with their ability to win on the road? Their scheduled rematch against Ohio State for February 25th at Value City Arena will help determine which possible weakness will prove more deadly.

Big Ten powerhouses No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Wisconsin are so closely matched in a statistical comparison that nothing can really be determined. The Buckeyes have a slight advantage in three-point shooting percentage, free throw percentage and assists. While the Badgers have a larger rebounding advantage and hold opponents to a lower score.

Statistical analysis, and other measuring barometer, proves that Ohio State and Wisconsin are clearly the class of the conference.

The biggest difference for the Buckeyes has been their cruel schedule. The road losses for Ohio State read like a who's who of college basketball, and clearly is the most difficult in the country. For most of the season Buckeye opponents North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin have been in constant discussion for the National Championship.

First, the 98-89 loss Ohio State suffered at No. 7 North Carolina, a defeat in which star Greg Oden was not able to play due to a wrist injury. Almost a month later, they lost to defending champions Florida on the road in their worst loss of the season. That loss will not be the norm for either team, as the Gators shot a percentage that was twice as high as Ohio State. The Buckeye's next loss came at the Kohl Center in which the No. 3 Badgers almost gave away a 16-point lead, but held on to win 72-69.

The Buckeyes have proven they aren't afraid to step onto someone else's court and challenge them. If you ask the Badgers they feel they can win on the road because they only take it one step at a time.

Badger head coach Bo Ryan doesn't even recognize the upcoming game against Ohio State as something to worry about as of yet.

"I didn't even know we were playing on the road in the next two games," Ryan said.

Wisconsin's 7-1 record on the road is important because they were able to beat in-state rival Marquette in a close road test.

The Badger's loss at No. 25 Indiana shows they still need to make improvements. That loss ended their 17 game win streak because the Badgers were unable to stop A.J. Ratliff and his 18 second-half points. The Badgers hung in close near the end, but just weren't able to get that final push. Even though forward Alando Tucker claims the game was helped the team because it allowed them to refocus.

This game doesn't prove they can't win on the road, but it certainly doesn't make a case that they can win on the road.

If you can ignore the loss to unranked Missouri State, the Badgers must be salivating for the game against the Buckeyes. They need that game to be a success, otherwise they can't think of themselves as a great team. Any championship contender needs to win away from their home court. Of course, all tournament games will be played outside the Kohl Center.

What Wisconsin unquestionably has on their side is experience across the board. Out of their eight-man rotation, only two are underclassman.

The leader of the team is clearly Tucker. He leads the team in points and minutes, and is second in rebounds and steals, while placing third in assists. Most of his 20 points a game are delivered in big games and moments when needed. He and fellow senior star, Kammron Taylor, are the train that the Badgers are riding towards their rematch with Ohio State.

"You know they help a great deal, every basketball aspect you can think of, whether it be leadership or making the right decisions or the doing the right things on defense," says freshman Jason Bohannon, who gets much advice from his senior leaders. "It helps our confidence a great deal."

Ohio State has a possible player of the year candidate leading them as well. Freshman center Greg Oden is gaining a big advantage in the paint by causing havoc on both ends of the floor, which is something that Badgers are lacking inside.

What Oden is able to do is make opponents fear the paint on both ends of the floor. Even playing with his broken right wrist in a cast for nearly half of the season, he still produced with 15 points, nine and a half rebounds, almost 4 blocks and shoots for the game at 62 percent. He does this in only in 30 minutes a game.

This kind of presence is something that the Badger trio of Brian Butch, Jason Chappell and Greg Stiemsma has yet to produce.

Those three combine to average 15 points, ten and half rebounds, over one block and shoot around 48 percent. The difference between them and Oden is they took 44 minutes to compile those numbers.

Ohio State also has other freshman stepping up for them as Mike Conley and Oden each have captured Big Ten Player of the Week awards, yet compared to one for Taylor and three for Tucker they still have some distance to make up.

Ohio State has faced tough road tests that can be recognized as the type of hostility and adversity that maybe can overcome their freshmen rotation.

The Badgers have beaten difficult teams that they can judge themselves against and realize that there is much potential.

"If we can battle through the adversity on the road, we've done in the past, everything we do from here will add to our legacy." Tucker says of his chances against Ohio State, "I feel very confident. No doubt in my mind that we can go in and win."

The showdown will not only determine if Wisconsin can beat a proven team away from the Kohl Center, but also whether Ohio State can win with a rotation filled with freshmen. Either the Buckeyes and their freshman will develop enough poise from their tough road games, or the experienced Badgers will prove they can win that difficult game on the road. Something has to give.

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