The Wisconsin men's basketball team (11-4 Overall, 1-2 Big Ten) hits the road seeking its second straight Big Ten victory of the season, traveling to Columbus to take on Ohio State (8-6, 1-2).
After avoiding their first three-game losing streak in two seasons, an impressive victory at home over Minnesota looks to have jolted the Badgers back into the Big Ten picture. The team defense and continuity that propelled the Badgers to a conference title last season appears to be resurfacing for this year's Bo Ryan-coached squad.
Led by senior guard Kirk Penney's consistent 16.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 per game, the team's success is continuing to become more and more contingent on the play of sophomore guard Devin Harris. Harris is coming off a 17 point, 10 rebound performance against Minnesota, his third career double-double, but more than that, his ability to dictate the offense without turnovers and set up his teammates has been crucial.
Harris will be one to watch tonight against Ohio State as he will likely take honors in defending the Buckeyes' senior guard Brent Darby. Darby leads OSU with 18.8 points and 4.5 assists per game. But his senior leadership is just as critical to the progress and success of the Buckeyes.
Buckeyes Coach Jim O'Brien and his team are also in search of their second win in the Big Ten season after losing to the surprising Wolverines of Michigan and Michigan State. Their lone conference victory came against Indiana Jan. 11, in which Ohio State held the Hoosiers to 38 percent shooting from the field while shooting 50 percent themselves. Darby led all scorers in that game with 28.
Ohio State is also searching for the consistency that led to its share of the last year's Big Ten championship.
Tonight will mark Ohio State's last home game of a recent stretch in which eight of its last nine have been in Columbus. After this weekend, the Buckeyes test the unfriendly waters of the Big Ten on the road for six of their next eight games.
But the Value City Arena has been very unfriendly to the Badgers ever since the two teams first played there in 1999. In the three prior meetings, The Badgers lost 63-54 in 1999, 51-48 in 2000 and 63-58 in 2001.
THREE KEYS FOR WISCONSIN
Boarding School – The Badgers are fifth in the Big Ten averaging 32.6 rebounds a game, but more importantly are only allowing opponents 27 per contest. Preventing second-chance opportunities for the Buckeyes, while creating their own will put the Badgers in good stance.
Pick Pocketing – The Badgers are No. 1 in steals in the Big Ten with nearly eight a game, while Ohio State is dead last with 4.5 per contest. Continuing the trend will create easy scoring opportunities for a team that needs them.
Turnovers – Leading the Big Ten with fewest turnovers, the Badgers are third in the nation averaging only 11.4 turnovers a game. As long as they don't shoot themselves in the foot, they'll be in good shape.
THREE KEYS FOR OHIO STATE
Brent Darby – Darby always seems be a thorn in the Badgers side, as he tends to bring out his A-game when these two teams match up. If he explodes, look for the rest of the Buckeyes to follow his lead.
D-Fence! – The Buckeyes are one of the top defensive teams year in and year out in the Big Ten. Their victories have all came from dictating the game with their defense, forcing turnovers and not allowing opponents easy shots. If Ohio State can limit the number of easy buckets for the Badgers and force turnovers, they will be tough to stop.
Home Sweet Home – The Badgers just can't seem to win in Columbus, especially in Value City Arena (0-3 overall), so the home floor will be a definite advantage for the Buckeyes.
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