An unpredictable 2012-13 college basketball season will culminate with the NCAA tournament selection process on Sunday, but before that happens we'll be treated with conference tournament games from around the country that could have a profound impact on which teams receive the top seeds.
If you've watched college hoops this year, you know that no conference has had a more profound, widespread effect on the seeding than the Big Ten, which will wrap up its conference tournament in the form of a matchup between No. 10 Ohio State and No. 22 Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon.
As noted by ESPN's Andy Katz, things have been so heated in the Big Ten that many feel there is more than one team that could make the Final Four from the conference:
Ohio State has won three B1G tournaments in the history of the event, and one more win would put the Buckeyes alone in first place for the most tournament championships in Big Ten history. By comparison, Wisconsin has two titles, and could tie Ohio State and Michigan State for that top spot.
The two schools likely won't be worrying about that on Sunday afternoon. 2013 NCAA tournament seeding and Big Ten bragging rights are on the line—not to mention pride after an embarrassing 71-49 Buckeyes loss when these two teams faced off in February.
Since that game, Ohio State has gone 7-0 and played its best basketball of the season, though the Buckeyes will certainly have revenge on their mind on Sunday. Wisconsin has been less impressive, but the Badgers boast wins over both Michigan and Indiana in the past two days.
What: B1G Tournament Championship
Who: No. 10 Ohio State vs. No. 22 Wisconsin
When: Sunday, March 17, at 3:30 p.m. ET
Keys to Victory for Ohio State
When it comes to Ohio State, it all starts with Aaron Craft.
The junior guard gets his teammates in position to score, rebounds the ball well on both ends and has quietly been one of the clutchest performers in college basketball this season.
He's proven that in both of Ohio State's wins against Michigan State in the past three weeks, averaging 20.5 points, 7.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals in those two games. He also had 19 of his 21 points on Saturday in the second half.
Craft leads a talented lineup that also includes leading scorer Deshaun Thomas, a player who quietly averages over 19 points per game and has been the team's most consistent performer during this seven-game winning streak before the NCAA tournament.
Both Craft and Thomas will have to step up big on both ends because Wisconsin is a fearsome defensive team and tough to contend with on offense.
To stop the Badgers on Sunday, the Buckeyes are also going to have to worry about dictating their own pace and closing out on shooters. Wisconsin shot over 50 percent during the first meeting between these two teams, outrebounded Ohio State by six and controlled the pace the entire game, methodically using all of the shot clock and forcing the Buckeyes to play its style of basketball.
That must change for the Buckeyes to take home a fourth championship trophy.
Keys to Victory for Wisconsin
It's pretty simple for the Badgers.
When they make shots and defend, they are one of the top five teams in the country. When the shots aren't falling, they use the shot clock to its pinnacle and force the pace to slow way down to the point that the game is very ugly down the stretch.
There's no doubt Wisconsin has reaped the benefits of that strategy this season, characterized by the scoring and shooting punch that Ben Brust, Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans all supplied in wins over Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana.
The flip side is evident, too, as losses to Iowa, Purdue and Virginia would suggest.
In any event, the Badgers stick to their guns. You know what style of basketball they are going to play each night, yet the group has won 23 games this season and has a chance to capture a three- or four-seed with a win in the title game.
There is no doubt that Ohio State is a tough opponent, but Wisconsin must not allow the athleticism of guys like Craft and Thomas to beat them. Thad Matta and Bo Ryan are going to go head to head themselves on Sunday afternoon, and one of Ryan's jobs will be to ensure that Ohio State can't go on a big run in the second half.
The Buckeyes thrive on emotion and big plays, and they use those things as a catalyst for the bigger picture. Wisconsin must continue to stay true to what got it here against Michigan and Indiana. If it can, then the tournament finale should provide a thrilling finish to the Big Ten this season.