Perspectives sure have changed for the Ohio State and Wisconsin basketball teams since the last time they matched up against each other.
The Buckeyes have lost two in a row and are now staring up at four different teams in the conference. The Badgers, on the other hand, are back in the thick of the Big Ten race after winning three in a row, including an overtime thriller against Michigan.
Ohio State won the game in Columbus, but playing in Madison is a completely different animal. In fact, Thad Matta has only won one game at Wisconsin in his career as Ohio State’s head man.
Read on to see five keys for Matta’s team if it hopes to get him a second career victory in Madison.
In the first matchup between these two teams, Wisconsin led the game 41-37 with just under 13 minutes remaining. With six minutes remaining, Ohio State led 52-41.
That 15-0 second-half spurt was the most important factor in allowing the Buckeyes to defend home court against the Badgers a few weeks ago. It energized the crowd and demoralized Wisconsin enough to carry the Scarlet and Gray to victory.
The Badgers are not susceptible to extended runs like that very often because of the way they control the pace of play and the fact that they don’t beat themselves with turnovers and unforced mistakes. If Ohio State can mix in one or two 7-0 bursts, it could be crucial.
Furthermore, a scoring spurt by the Buckeyes will help keep the raucous Wisconsin crowd out of the game. It is no accident that Thad Matta only has one career win at the underrated Kohl Center.
Anyone who has watched Wisconsin’s basketball team play knows what the ultimate strategy is for the Badgers. They slow down the pace of the game to a level they are comfortable with and play fundamentally strong until they ultimately outlast you.
In fact, Wisconsin is a middling 180th in points per game but rank 36th in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, which is a much better indicator of a team’s scoring ability.
That simply means the Badgers don’t score a bunch of points because they actively slow the game down and minimize the number of possessions either team can score on.
This may pose a problem for the Buckeyes because they are much more efficient when they get out and run, despite their propensity to slow the game down as well. With athletes like Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross and Deshaun Thomas, there is plenty of speed to go around, but the half-court offense often stalls.
That being said, speeding up the pace of play against Wisconsin is a task much easier said than done. Ohio State will need to do that because it struggles exactly where the Badgers excel—in the half court.
The most frequent talking point when discussing Ohio State’s concerns and issues this basketball season has been finding a second scorer behind Deshaun Thomas. At different times Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and even Sam Thompson were all going to fill that role.
If the past two games are any indication, the Buckeyes may have finally found their (second) man. LaQuinton Ross scored 16 points against Michigan and 11 points against Indiana and did so by shooting a combined 12-of-20 from the field.
He is the type of athlete that can give the Badgers fits by challenging on the boards and getting out in transition. If Ross can mix in a critical three-pointer or two, he can have a big impact on this game.
He did exactly that in the previous game against Wisconsin and put up eight points, six of which came from behind the three-point line in critical moments.
Anytime you go up against a Bo Ryan-led Wisconsin team, rebounding is going to be crucial.
The Badgers already use so much of the clock and take the air out of the basketball and pace as it is, and if they are able to take advantage of shot-clock restarts and control the paint on the glass, it will frustrate Ohio State’s players. The Buckeyes outrebounded Wisconsin 29-23 in the first matchup, which was critical in determining the winner.
Another reason rebounding is key is that it will help the Scarlet and Gray keep Jared Berggren, arguably Wisconsin’s best player, in check. He leads his team in points per game, is second in rebounds per game, leads in blocks per game and is first among regulars in field-goal percentage.
If the vulnerable Buckeye middle can keep Berggren off the glass, Ohio State can win this game.
Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas were supposed to be the two pillars of an Ohio State team that had some question marks heading into the season.
For the most part, they have lived up to expectations. Thomas is the Big Ten’s most prolific scorer and Craft is one of its best two on-ball defenders (along with Victor Oladipo). Yes, Craft’s offense and Thomas’ defense has room for improvement, but the most important thing for each will be their leadership going forward.
After two straight losses, the goal of a Big Ten championship seems out of reach. Now is the time that the team has to rally around its veterans to emerge from its slump and salvage what can still be a very promising and successful year.
As for this game against the Badgers, both Craft and Thomas were huge in the first matchup. Thomas scored 25 points on a blistering 10-of-17 shooting and even dished out four assists. Craft added 13 points and led the Buckeyes with seven rebounds.
Craft and Thomas both have advantages in the one-on-one matchups the Badgers throw at them and need to once again exploit those holes. Craft should not settle for outside shots and look to drive the lane, while Thomas would be better served trying to establish some type of post game to go along with his shot.
If Craft and Thomas are going to lead this team to bigger and better things down the stretch, now is the time to start.