Kicking Some Badger Butt

It was very satisfying, indeed, to watch Ohio State crush Wisconsin today, 93-65.  The blow-out win was a fitting send-off to David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and Dallas Lauderdale, who will go down as one of the best — and certainly most beloved — senior classes in Ohio State hoops history.  It also was nice to see the Buckeyes “deal with it,” to use Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan’s deathless phrase.

Ohio State coach Thad Matta has molded together a really wonderful team.  It is staggering that the Buckeyes scored 93 points on the Badgers, who are one of the best defensive teams in the country.  Before today, Wisconsin had allowed only one team to score even 70 points.  But today, the Buckeyes beat the Badgers inside and beat the Badgers outside.  Jon Diebler led Ohio State in raining threes, as the Buckeyes shot a stunning 14 out of 15 from behind the arc.  Jared Sullinger, Dallas Lauderdale, and David Lighty also put up a lot of points in the paint, and the Buckeyes out-rebounded the Badgers as well.  Finally, Aaron Craft played a virtually flawless offensive floor game, dishing out 6 assists while having zero turnovers.  If Ohio State executes like that on the offensive end in the rest of its games this season, it will be a very hard team for anyone to beat.

On the defensive end, the Buckeyes shut down Jordan Taylor, who had torched the Buckeyes in Madison, and also took the Badgers’ excellent forward, Jon Leuer, out of his game.  The Buckeyes can play a suffocating man-to-man, as they did today, and their offensive efficiency also puts pressure on the opposing team’s offense.  When Ohio State is scoring on virtually every trip down the court, and often with a three, the temptation for the other team to come down and try to score quickly is difficult to resist — and often quick shots are bad shots.

The Buckeyes now need to put this very satisfying win behind them.  They move on to the Big Ten Tournament as the number one seed.  That tournament doesn’t mean much, except as a vehicle to cement an overall no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  The Buckeyes need to avoid injury, stay sharp, and let some of their back-ups play — and then they need to get ready for The Big Dance.

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The Badgers And The Buckeyes

Wisconsin has a rare opportunity tomorrow.  A few months ago they ruined Ohio State’s perfect season in football with a convincing win at Camp Randall Stadium.  Tomorrow they have the chance to do the same thing in basketball.  The very idea sends a collective shudder through Buckeye Nation.

The odds favor the Badgers.  They have a well-coached, talented team — and Wisconsin is ridiculously hard to beat at the Kohl Center.  Bo Ryan’s record there is absurdly good.  Thad Matta, who has a fine Big Ten road record since he began coaching the Buckeyes, has never beaten Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.  And if, like me, you are a Buckeye fan who believes in karma, your heart must have sank when you saw Wisconsin recently pull out a gritty road win against Iowa in a game where Wisconsin simply could not knock down a shot.  That probably means that the Badgers will be lights out tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s game should be a real treat for college basketball fans.  Both teams play solid basketball and sound defense.  Both teams have experience and players who are in contention for all-conference honors.  In Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin has two players who would be welcome on any team in the country, and they are backed by a complement of players who can shoot the 3, crash the boards, and run Wisconsin’s deliberate offense to perfection.  Both teams have great coaches who are perennial winners.  If you are Ohio State, you are hoping that Jared Sullinger plays at the same high level he has displayed all season and that David Lighty and Jon Diebler, as seniors, help the Buckeyes navigate through the rough patches that undoubtedly will occur before the screaming Kohl Center crowd.

This will be a huge test for this year’s Ohio State basketball team.  Win or lose, it is the kind of tough game that will be good experience for the Buckeyes when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.