The most recent knife through the hearts of Buckeye faithful, courtesy of Penn State guard D.J. Newbill, has Ohio State in a near must-win situation as they travel to Madison, Wisconsin to face the Badgers.
"We're going into a tough environment. We've got to play together to win," said Ohio State junior guard, Shannon Scott when he spoke to the media Friday afternoon.
It will far easier said than done. The Buckeyes will need to overcome an array of problems offensively to defeat Wisconsin in its home arena. Bo Ryan has won over 90 percent of his games at the Kohl Center in his tenure as head coach of the Badgers.
The Buckeyes were incredibly emotional after losing to Penn State. Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said the loss hurt more than any he had ever been a part of at Ohio State, which includes losses in the Final Four and Elite Eight.
Wisconsin comes into Saturday's ballgame in a similar situation to the Buckeyes.
The Badgers have lost four out of five games, including an embarrassing in its own right 65-56 home loss to the Northwestern Wildcats.
Both teams started the season a combined 30-0 and were ranked in the top-5 of the AP Top 25 Poll.
Since, they have combined for a 3-9 record and have put themselves in big trouble when it comes to contending for the Big Ten regular season title and receiving favorable seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Wisconsin's biggest advantage at home against Ohio State is that they take care of the basketball. The Badgers turn it over less than 10 times per game and always seem to get a good look at the hoop late in the shot clock.
The Badgers will pose some matchup problems for Ohio State's front court. Sophomore forward Sam Dekker and junior forward Frank Kaminsky are going to take Ohio State center Amir Williams away from the rim and open up driving lanes for the Wisconsin guards.
The Ohio State backcourt will have to find ways to cause turnovers and get into the open floor to get some easy offense early and often.
At the end of the day, the Buckeyes need to find a way to close out games when they have a lead. Three times in January, Ohio State lost when leading with five minutes left in the game (Nebraska, Iowa, and Penn State).
"We've been in all these games. We just haven't been able to make the momentum swinging play," said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta.
Numbers to Know
The Buckeyes may not want to play around early and end up having to make up ground versus Wisconsin at the end of the game. The Badgers are third in the Big Ten in free throw shooting percentage, connecting at a .742 clip. The Badgers will close Ohio State out if it becomes a free throw shooting competition.
This is Ohio State's rating in the RPI as of January 31. The Buckeyes have been free falling lately, but if they can pick up a couple of key victories down the stretch in the Big Ten season, it is still likely they make it into the NCAA Tournament, likely skipping the opening Tuesday/Wednesday round of games. Fans are in panic mode, but the Buckeyes still have plenty of opportunities to recover from what's been a truly awful month.
As has been the norm for Badger basketball teams in the past decade, they take care of the basketball. Wisconsin only averages 9.4 turnovers per game, as opposed to the national average that is upwards of 12.5. Ohio State needs to create havoc with its defense to come out of the Kohl Center with a victory.
Cast of Characters
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Following his passionate post game comments after the loss to Penn State, Smith will need to have a big game to lead his team to victory in a hostile environment. I would expect Smith to play his heart out. He will not allow Ohio State to go down quietly Saturday afternoon.
We all know about Craft's accolades. He may end his career as one of the best players in Ohio State history. However, Craft needs to be more consistent offensively and lead by example. The Buckeyes need just about anyone to step up, but a dominant performance from the Buckeyes' senior point guard would be a sight for sore eyes.
Wisconsin's junior point guard is logging a career high in minutes (30.4), points (11.0), and field goal percentage (.401) during the 2013-14 campaign. He has made leaps and bounds as a player and a floor general from his first season in Madison. Jackson has a knack for knocking down big shots, especially against his father, Jim Jackson's alma mater.
This junior forward from Illinois is a big matchup problem for Ohio State. He can play physical with the Buckeye front line and also step away from the basket and knock down a jump shot. Kaminsky leads the Badgers in three-point field goal percentage at 43.4 percent. He is also liable to pop off for a big night as he did earlier in the season when he dropped a Wisconsin single game record 43 points against North Dakota State.
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