It hasn't been a vintage Ohio State team for coach Thad Matta, but the Buckeyes enter senior day Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, with a chance to better their NCAA tournament seeding and build confidence heading to the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago.
Despite the constant scoring struggles and the inconsistency, Ohio State (22-8, 11-6) stands to snag a top five seed in the NCAA tournament if it can make a late March run. It starts with sixth-ranked Wisconsin (27-3, 15-2), which has won 12 of its last 13 games and clinched its 18th Big Ten regular season title outright in a rout Thursday night on the road against Minnesota.
The Badgers have their sites set on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament when they hit the Schottenstein center 4:30 p.m. Sunday. They're led by top Wooden Award candidate Frank Kaminsky. The 7-foot center from Lisle, Ill., has been terrorizing Big Ten opponents ever since he decided to dodge the NBA Draft and stay for his senior season.
Kaminsky averages 18.4 points on the season and ranks second in the Big Ten with 8.2 rebounds per game. Not many teams have had an answer for the big man with enough brute force to dominate smaller defenders and the finesse to take bigs to the perimeter.
Senior Buckeye center Amir Williams spoke to the media Saturday about Ohio State's strategy on stopping Kaminsky. He said the Buckeyes were "open to anything" when it came to slowing down the man people call Tank.
"(We will) try to get him out of his rhythm," Williams said. "Make things difficult for him early on... just be physical."
Aside from Kaminsky's dominance, the Badgers don't hurt themselves on the offensive end. Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7) and it often takes advantage of its opponents turnovers because it gets good shots on each possession.
Senior guard Shannon Scott, who will be playing his final game at The Schottenstein Center on Sunday, said it's important for the Buckeyes to slow things down against Wisconsin and avoid mistakes.
"They're a team we have to be patient with," Scott said Saturday. "We can't force anything or make any careless plays because they'll take advantage of it, so we gotta take care of the ball."
The Buckeyes have had their issues starting slow against the best competition in the conference. Matta said the Badgers are the type of team defensively where "what you see is what you get." The Badgers do a great job of staying in front of dribblers and keeping the game physical.
Ohio State will have to make some perimeter shots against Wisconsin -- something it struggled to do against bottom dweller Penn State.
Besides freshman standout D'Angelo Russell, the Buckeyes shot 1-of-11 from behind the 3-point line Wednesday night. The seniors like Scott and forward Sam Thompson will have to make some shots to loosen up Wisconsin's defense for driving lanes.
The sometimes disappointing frontline of Williams and Trey McDonald will have to play it tough down low against Kaminsky and finish their careers on a high note to give Ohio State a chance to stand strong at home and build momentum for the postseason.
With a win on Sunday, Matta would become the winningest head coach in Ohio State basketball history.
Numbers to know:
Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing just 56.0 points per game. There is nothing easy against the Badgers around the paint when Frank Kaminsky is protecting the rim.
Ohio State is second in the Big Ten with 7.9 steals per game. It's important for Russell and the Buckeyes to turn defense into transition offense to get some easy hoops against Wisconsin before its defense can get set.
Wisconsin's 1.7 assist-to-turnover ration leads the Big Ten. One of the reasons Bo Ryan teams are so difficult to cover is because they do not turn the ball over and they make sure everyone touches the basketball on each possession.
Cast of characters:
Russell's 28 points and six rebounds Wednesday night in State College, Pa., lifted Ohio State when its veterans couldn't buy a basket early in the game. Russell may have to carry his seniors to another victory in their final game in Columbus.
Scott still leads the Big Ten in assists with nearly six per game and when he's active offensively the Buckeyes tend to be more productive. Look for Scott to play with a lot of enthusiasm and be a willing shooter in his final home game.
The 6'9 junior has played some of his best basketball down the stretch, including a 20-point, six-rebound showing against Minnesota on Thursday. His size on the perimeter is going to give Russell some issues if he gets switched onto the freshman on the defensive end.
There is perhaps no better character in America than Kaminsky. His most impressive quality is his ability to alter shots and play position defense. Buckeyes beware if you're entering the paint Sunday.
How to watch:
Radio: 97.1 The Fan