Madison, WI (Sports Network) - Two of the Big Ten Conference's best are set for a marquee matchup on Sunday afternoon, as the 20th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers welcome the 13th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes to the Kohl Center.
Ohio State followed a four-game win streak with a pair of losses at Michigan on Feb. 5 (76-74 in OT) and at home against Indiana on Feb. 10 (81-68), but it was able to get back on track on Thursday night with a 69-59 triumph over Northwestern. The Buckeyes are now 18-6 on the season and situated in a three- way tie for third place in the Big Ten at 8-4, but they have not fared well away from home (3-5).
Despite dropping its latest matchup at Minnesota on Thursday night, 58-53 in overtime, Wisconsin is in the midst of a very strong season at 17-8 and 8-4 in conference. The Badgers have showed up on the biggest stages this season, having registered signature wins over top-ranked teams Michigan and Indiana. They also defeated Illinois and Minnesota while both were ranked in the top-15.
Ohio State took down Wisconsin in Columbus on Jan. 29, 58-49, to capture its fourth win in the last six encounters with the Badgers, improving its record in the all-time series to 84-66 in the process. Wisconsin holds a 43-28 advantage in games played in Madison, however.
The Buckeyes had to sweat it out in their latest contest against Northwestern, as they even trailed by two with 5:14 left to play. Fortunately, they got their act together down the stretch, closing out the game on a 12-2 run to snap their brief skid. Despite getting outshot from the field, 46 percent to 45.5 percent, Ohio State held a 14-2 scoring advantage at the foul line and controlled the boards, 41-21. Deshaun Thomas put together another strong performance with 22 points as he kept pace atop the Big Ten's scoring ledger (20.2 ppg). Lenzelle Smith, Jr. tallied 13 points, Sam Thompson had 11, Amir Williams tacked on 10 points and eight rebounds, and while Aaron Craft hit for only seven points, but rounded out a solid effort from the starting five with six assists and three steals. OSU is one of only two teams in the conference to rank in the top five in both scoring offense (71.6 ppg) and scoring defense (59.1 ppg). In addition to being the top scorer, Thomas is also the team's leading rebounder with 6.2 per outing, while Smith, Jr. (10.3 ppg) and Craft (9.5 ppg, 4.5 apg, 2.0 spg) are also consistent performers.
Wisconsin led by as many as 10 points in their recent clash with Minnesota, but allowed the Gophers to tie the game in the final minute of regulation to force overtime, and the Badgers never held a lead in the extra session as they suffered the tough five-point loss. Despite a great defensive performance, which held Minnesota to less than 37 percent shooting from the field, they could not take advantage when they had the ball (.305 FG percentage). Sam Dekker was solid off the bench with 14 points, while Ben Brust was lackluster from 3-point range (3-of-10) but still finished with 11 points. On the season, Wisconsin's offensive attack is below average by Big Ten standards (66.8 ppg), but it has established itself as one of the nation's top teams thanks to its outstanding scoring defense, which ranks first in the league and 11th nationally in yielding a mere 56.5 ppg. The team's strength comes in the frontcourt, with Jared Berggren (11.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg) and Ryan Evans (10.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg) manning the low post. Brust nets 11.2 ppg thanks in part to a 55-of-140 showing from beyond the arc, and he is also an outstanding rebounder for a 6-foot-1 guard (5.3 rpg).