It wasn't exactly an all-time classic, but the Ohio State Buckeyes went on the road to pick up a much-needed 59-58 win over the Wisconsin Badgers on Feb. 1, potentially saving their own season while throwing Wisconsin into panic mode.
Both Ohio State and Wisconsin entered Saturday afternoon's showdown in desperate need of a win. Wisconsin had lost four of its last five games, while Ohio State had dropped five out of six. On Wednesday night, Wisconsin lost at home to Northwestern, and Ohio State lost at home to Penn State, two of the worst teams the Big Ten has to offer.
As far as early February games between ranked teams are concerned, it's difficult to remember a game being so important for both teams.
And when it mattered most, Ohio State found a way to emerge with a win.
Though it was a huge victory, the Buckeyes are nowhere near out of the woods yet. They play two of their next three games against Iowa and Michigan with a potentially dangerous game against Purdue in between.
But perhaps the tide is turning.
"I thought we had better composure. I thought we had a better pace about us. I thought we executed better down the stretch," Thad Matta said after the game, per The Associated Press (via USA Today).
On the season, Ohio State is one of the best in the country at keeping the opposition from creating steals, with just 5.9 percent of their offensive possessions ending in a steal, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).
During their earlier four-game losing streak, though, opponents registered a steal on 12.1 percent of the Buckeyes' offensive possessions. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott combined to commit 31 turnovers in those four games (7.8 per game) as opposed to the 65 turnovers they have committed in Ohio State's other 18 games (3.6 per game).
As a result, the Buckeyes' points per possession have been out of whack, too. Granted, games against Morgan State and Louisiana-Monroe aren't exactly the same as Big Ten games, but the difference in points per possession in their wins and losses is pretty staggering.
|Ohio State Points per Possession|
|In Ohio State's 17 wins||In Ohio State's 5 losses|
Assuming a national average of 67.2 possessions per game, Ohio State's average win is by a score of 76-56 while its average loss is by a score of 69-63.
Of course, a lot of that difference is due to the aforementioned increase in turnovers, but the Buckeyes are still on the eternal hunt for their go-to scorer.
LaQuinton Ross leads the team in points per game, but he had just one field-goal attempt in the final 14 minutes against Wisconsin in the type of close game where you would expect a go-to scorer to go get the ball. For example, if Deshaun Thomas was still on the team, he likely would have taken at least eight shots in those final 14 minutes.
But I digress, because this was a big win for Ohio State, and things seem to be getting better—the recent loss to Penn State notwithstanding.
Wisconsin, however, appears to be spiraling out of control.
This was the Badgers' fifth loss in a span of 18 days and the third straight one to occur at home in the Kohl Center—a place where they had a record of 77-8 between Feb. 1, 2009 and Jan. 15, 2014.
To figure out what has gone wrong, we perhaps need look no further than Frank Kaminsky.
In jumping out to a 16-0 start, Kaminsky was Wisconsin's knight in shining armor. The big man shot 48 percent from three-point range and had already scored more points in the first 15 games of the season than he did in the previous two seasons combined.
Over the past few weeks, that has changed considerably.
In Wisconsin's 17 wins, Kaminsky has made 22 of his 46 three-point attempts (47.8 percent). In Wisconsin's five losses, Kaminsky has made just one out of 10. All three of his misses on Saturday came on completely wide-open jumpers. It's pretty clear that he has lost his touch outside the arc on offense.
Even worse, he appears to have lost his touch inside the arc on defense.
Ohio State did not shoot all that well against Wisconsin (42.9 percent), but in the Badgers' previous four losses, they have been hopelessly victimized in the paint.
Entering play on Saturday, Wisconsin's opponents were shooting 43.5 percent on two-point attempts in games that Wisconsin won, but they were shooting 56.2 percent on two-point attempts in games that Wisconsin lost. (Percentages tallied from box scores.)
The numbers for Wisconsin's effective field-goal defense are almost identical. When Wisconsin wins, its opponents have an eFG percentage of 43.9 percent. When Wisconsin loses—including the loss to Ohio State—its opponents have an eFG percentage of 56.5 percent.
To be sure, there's an element of dumb luck to field-goal percentage. Sometimes the opponent misses wide-open layups, and sometimes the opponent drills fade-away three-pointers. And again, there's a fine line between playing Michigan and playing Prairie View A&M.
Still, those are not the Wisconsin numbers we've grown accustomed to seeing. Last season, Wisconsin's defensive eFG percentage was 43.0 percent—good for seventh in the country. The year before that, the Badgers ranked second in the country at 42.5 percent.
In their first three Big Ten games against Northwestern, Iowa and Illinois, the Badgers' opponents had an eFG of just 37.9 percent.
But lately, it has seemed like their opponents are simply throwing pebbles into the ocean—especially from point-blank range. According to KenPom, opponents are getting 62.7 percent of their points against Wisconsin off of two-pointers—the highest percentage in the country.
That certainly isn't all Kaminsky's fault. He has blocked 6.5 percent of the opposition's two-point attempts while he is in the game, and rarely has it been the other team's primary big man doing the damage.
Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert combined to make 14 of their 28 two-point attempts in Michigan's win over Wisconsin. Indiana's Yogi Ferrell and Stanford Robinson went 15-of-26 inside the arc. DeAndre Mathieu and Austin Hollins went 11-of-19 for Minnesota.
Guards are effortlessly penetrating against Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson, and it is killing the Badgers.
Three of Wisconsin's next five games come against the best teams in the conference—Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa—and the other two games against Illinois and Minnesota aren't exactly wins that the Badgers can pick up in their sleep.
If they don't figure things out in a hurry, this rough patch could turn into nine or 10 losses in the span of 11 games.
It'd be tough to envision the Badgers actually missing the NCAA tournament, but who would have guessed this team could be headed for a sub-.500 record in conference play after opening the season 16-0?
Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of KenPom.com (subscription required).
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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