When the Wisconsin Badgers tip off against the Ohio State Buckeyes Tuesday evening, there won't exactly be any love lost between the two sides. While Wisconsin and Ohio State aren't rivals in a traditional sense, in a cross sport spat dating back to the Buckeyes' 2003 football upset loss in which Ohio State linebacker Robert Reynolds choked Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi in a dog pile, there's never much doubt that the two sides simply don't like each other very much.
In football, there was the always grating Bret Bielema boasting that it's a "great day to be a Badger" whenever convenient, then accusing Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer of playing dirty pool when it became apparent he wouldn't be able to fight off the advances of Meyer and his staff if they pursued the same talent (to Bielema's credit, the now ex-Badgers coached secured the services of 6-10 OT Dan Skipper Tuesday evening despite Ohio State and Meyer's overtures).
From a hoops sense, there was the now immortal Bo Ryan talking point. After then Ohio State star Jared Sullinger spoke to the media about having been spit on by Wisconsin fans during a road game in 2011 at the Kohl Center, Ryan muttered, unenthused as ever, "all I know is that we won the game; deal with it." Buckeye fans (and the men's basketball team) would make good on the pledge, when not even a month later, Ohio State would run rough shod over Wisconsin, 93-65. Our friends at HOMAGE provided rah rags to the crowd that afternoon, not only forcing Ryan to eat his words, but also providing one of the visuals of that college basketball season.
Fast forward almost two seasons later, and the similarities aren't abundant. Sure, Bo Ryan's comedic super villain-esque scowl is still omnipresent. And yes, the mutual disdain is as real as ever. But Thad Matta's 2012-2013 basketball Bucks don't look or feel all that similar to the 2011-2012 team that won in Mad-town, but came up just short against last year's a Jordan-Taylor-three-pointer-away-from-meeting-Ohio-State-in-the-Elite-Eight side. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Unlike so many teams in college basketball (Ohio State amongst them), the Badgers run closer to a more traditional G-G-F-F-C starting lineup. Guiding the helm is none other than the son of Ohio State legend Jimmy Jackson, sophomore Traevon. The Westerville, Ohio native is second on the team in both assists and steals and averages 5.8 points per game, 2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per. He scored the Badgers' final four points in the team's win over Minnesota, and since moving over from two guard during the seventh game of the year, has provided much needed stability to the Wisconsin attack. Jackson's scored a minimum of 9 points in three of the last five games, finishing with 14 against Illinois, 11 at Indiana, and 9 total versus Minnesota.
Ben Brust is the Badgers' other starting guard, checking in as the third leading scorer on the team. The junior Brust averages 10.4 points per game, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists. He's recorded four double-doubles on the season, and as the stats indicate, actually leads the team in assists. Brust's long distance shooting makes him even more most dangerous, as he ranks 14th in the Big Ten shooting 38.8% from behind the arc. He also would rank fifth in the Big Ten with a 2.42 assist-to-turnover ratio, but is two assists shy of qualifying in the category.
Ryan Evans, a G/F type, is the Badgers' second leading scorer. The Big Ten's third leading rebounder averages 10.9 points per game, 7.8 boards, and 1.6 assists per contest. He's got four double-doubles of his own during the 2012-2013 season. The last time these two teams met, Evans finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. In the team's last game (the win over Minnesota), he contributed 10 points and a team-high 8 rebounds.
The other starting forward, senior Mike Bruesewitz, livs up to his name in many respects. Averaging 7.1 points per game and 5.1 boards, he ranks 11th in conference play with 6.9 rebounds per. With 116 career games under his belt, you might just remember Bruesewitz running the court with Michael Finley way back when. The big man had a challenging first several months of the year, but was in part slowed by injury. In the nine games since he returned from a concussion, Bruesewitz has averaged 8.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per while also shooting 47.2% from the field in that stretch. In addition to the concussion, he also suffered a leg laceration at a practice back in early October that was so bad he required an emergency operation that same day. Kinda concerning?
The final piece of the Wisconsin formula is the most notorious, F/C Jared Berggren. The senior from Princeton, Minnesota epitomizes Badgers basketball in the Bo Ryan-era: gritty, methodical, precise, often defensive minded, and far better than he should be. Berggren is second in the Big Ten with 35 blocks and was responsible for 15 points and 12 rebounds in the Badgers' 74-51 demolition of former Ohio State defeater Illinois earlier this month. On the season, Berggren averages 12.0 points and 6.4 rebounds. In last year's 63-60 win over Ohio State, Berggren scored 18 (including the Badgers' final five) capped by the go-ahead three with just :31 to play and then a pair of free throws down the stretch to ice things. In a post-Jared Sullinger world for the Buckeyes, this game could very easily come down to whether or not the combination of Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams are able to slow Berggren down or not.
The two impact Badgers off the bench you can expect to see are redshirt freshman guard, George Marshall (5.8 ppg, 1.3 apg; 43.8% from 3) and freshman forward, Sam Dekker (9.3 ppg, 3.5 rb; double digits in points in three of Wisconsin's last four). Frank Kaminsky is the Badgers' best backup big, but since suffering an eye injury against Indiana, he's been unavailable. He remains a game time decision.
Though the Buckeyes lost to Wisconsin on William Buford's senior night (and Jared Sullinger's de facto one) a year prior, given the opponent, they likely won't need any extra motivation. While the Buckeyes and Badgers in some senses seem to be streaking in opposite directions (Ohio State having won four of five to Wisconsin's having lost two of three), it's likely both teams consider this one to be "must win". It's probably safe to assume both Deshaun Thomas and Jared Berggren get theirs, but who will be the necessary number two for each side? If Sam Thompson can reprieve his role from against Penn State, the Buckeyes will be in good shape. And while Traevon Jackson may be somewhat extra motivated to go against his hometown team (and the alma matter of his famed father who declined to recruit him), given that the likes of Aaron Craft and and Shannon Scott will be marking him, he could be in for a very long evening.
Holy War. Nothing will come easy and the team that wins this one will not only be the team that has two viable scoring options, but the one that minimizes mistakes. Both team's front lines have had stretches of inconsistency, but you almost have to give the edge as to which rediscovers their effectiveness to the home team. Ohio State 50 - Wisconsin 46.