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What To Watch: OSU @ Wisconsin

We have our preview and a prediction for Sunday’s game as No. 13 Ohio State visits No. 20 Wisconsin (1 p.m., CBS).

matta 2 16 13 mpg

In the video boards, we have comments from OSU coach Thad Matta (above) and Deshaun Thomas (below).

Here is our What To Watch feature for Sunday’s game against Wisconsin:

Opponent: Wisconsin

* Where: Kohl Center (Capacity: 17,230); Madison, Wis.

* Date, Time: Sunday, 1 p.m.

* TV: CBS (Announcers: Tim Brando and Bill Raftery)

* 2012-13 Records: Ohio State, 18-6 overall, 8-4 Big Ten; Wisconsin, 17-8 overall, 8-4 Big Ten

* Poll Rankings: Ohio State, 13th in the AP poll and 14th in the USA Today coaches poll; Wisconsin, 20h in the AP poll and 19th in the coaches poll.

thomas 2 16 13 mpg

* RPI Rankings: Ohio State, 23rd; Wisconsin, 32nd. (OSU is 1-5 against teams currently in the RPI top 25, 2-6 against teams in the top 50 and 4-6 against teams in the top 100. Wisconsin is 3-5 against teams currently in the RPI top 25, 5-6 against teams in the top 50 and 7-8 against teams in the top 100.)

* Key Players (2012-13 Stats): Ohio State – F Deshaun Thomas, 6-7, jr., 20.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg; G Aaron Craft, 6-2, jr., 9.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.0 spg; G Lenzelle Smith Jr., 6-4, jr., 10.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.8 apg; F LaQuinton Ross, 6-8, so., 7.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg; C Amir Williams, 6-11, so., 4.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg; F-C Evan Ravenel, 6-8, sr., 5.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg; F Sam Thompson, 6-7, so., 7.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg; G Shannon Scott, 6-2, so., 4.8 ppg, 4.0 apg, 1.6 spg. Wisconsin – F-C Jared Berggren, 6-10, sr., 11.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg; F Ryan Evans, 6-6, sr., 10.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg; G Ben Brust, 6-1, jr., 11.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.6 apg; F Sam Dekker, 6-7, fr., 9.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg; F Mike Brusewitz, 6-6, sr., 6.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg; G George Marshall, 5-11, fr., 4.8 ppg; G Traevon Jackson, 6-2, so., 6.2 ppg, 2.4 apg.

* Quality Of Opponent: Extremely dangerous. As everybody knows, the Kohl Center is one of the toughest places to play in the country. The Badgers are coming off a tough overtime loss at Minnesota (58-53, in overtime) and you know they will want to bounce back with a big home win.

Prior to that loss, Wisconsin had won three in a row including a home win over then-No. 3 Michigan (65-62, in overtime).

Wisconsin is a slow-it-down, grind-it-out kind of team. The Badgers are 11th nationally in scoring defense (56.5 ppg). They are also second nationally in fewest turnovers at 9.5 per game. You need patience and perseverance to beat this team – either at home or on the road.

* OSU-Wisconsin Series: Ohio State leads the all-time series with Wisconsin 84-66, although UW leads 43-28 in games played in Madison.

The Buckeyes won the teams’ first meeting 58-49 on Jan. 29 in Columbus. The Buckeyes trailed by four midway through the second half before going on a 15-0 run to grab control of the game. Thomas had 10 of his game-high 25 points during that run. Craft added 13 points for OSU. Jackson had 12 points and Berggren scored 11 for Wisconsin, which shot a dismal 36.5 percent (19 of 52).

Ohio State is 4-8 against Wisconsin at the Kohl Center since it opened in January 1998. The Buckeyes snapped an eight-game losing streak in Madison with last year’s 58-52 win there.

Thomas had 25 points in OSU's Jan. 29 win over Wisconsin

Since his arrival at OSU in 2004-05, Thad Matta is 8-10 against Wisconsin. Since his arrival at Wisconsin in 2001-02, Bo Ryan is 14-9 against Ohio State.

* Fun Facts: Matta’s OSU teams are a combined 39-50 against ranked teams in his nine years with the Buckeyes. OSU is 1-6 against ranked teams this year with their loss at then-No. 2 Duke on Nov. 29 (73-68), the home loss to then-No. 9 Kansas (74-66) on Dec. 22, the loss at then No. 11-Illinois (74-55) Jan. 5, the home win over then-No. 2 Michigan (56-53) Jan. 13, the road loss at then-No. 18 Michigan State (59-56) on Jan. 19, the road loss at No. 3 Michigan (74-2, overtime) on Feb. 5 and the home loss to No. 1 Indiana (81-68) last Sunday. In 13 years as a college head coach, Matta’s teams are a combined 48-59 against ranked teams … Ohio State is 3-4 this season in road games. That includes wins at Purdue, Penn State and Nebraska and losses at Duke, Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan … Thomas now has 1,377 points for his career. He moved past the late Brent Darby (1,368 points) for 25th on OSU’s career scoring list. Brian Brown (24th with 1,384 points) is next up. Thomas has been in double figures in all 24 games and hit for 20 or more points in eight of the 12 Big Ten games. Thomas also needs 15 points to become just the 14th player in OSU history to score 500 points in multiple seasons … Wisconsin is 13-2 at home this season and 184-18 at the Kohl Center all-time. That includes a record of 29-11 (.725) at the Kohl Center vs. teams ranked in the AP Top 25 … The Badgers are 4-4 vs. teams ranked in the AP Top 25 this season, including a 4-2 mark against ranked Big Ten teams … Wisconsin is 179-17 (.913) at the Kohl Center under Bo Ryan, including a mark of 89-10 (.899) in Big Ten Conference home games.

* Match-Ups To Watch: Berggren loves to draw his defender out to the perimeter and will shoot threes. Williams and Ravenel will have to be on point against him and keep him off the boards.

Brust, who hit a halfcourt shot to force overtime in the Michigan win, is starting to heat up. He has averaged nearly 16 points in UW’s last four games. He’s hit 39 percent of his three-pointers in that stretch. Smith will likely draw this assignment and can’t sleep on Brust, because he will make you pay if you don’t push out on him.

* What’s At Stake: Well, I don’t want to say that one game is any more important than any other game. But if you take the big picture view, a chance to sweep Wisconsin would be huge. It’s my observation that Ohio State and Wisconsin could be in the running for the fourth seed in the Big Ten tournament. That seed carries an opening round bye. Otherwise, the fifth seed must play Thursday and also must win four games in four days to take the tournament.

The Buckeyes could also use a quality road win on their resume for NCAA seeding and those opportunities are dwindling.

* What They’re Saying: Thomas on what it would mean to get a huge road win: “It ignites everybody and would give us confidence in our team. It would be a big boost for us. If we get this big road win, it would be great for us and the program.”

Thomas on what is so tough about the Kohl Center: “The atmosphere. It ignites guys when the play at home. In this league, you have to protect your home court. That’s what they’ve done. Last year, we won there and we had not won there in a while. They will have that (memory) from last year and think about that and say, ‘We can’t have those guys come in here and win again.’

“We have to match their intensity to try and get that upset.”

Thomas on OSU’s three-point defense: “We have to start off the game with energy. We knew Northwestern was going to chuck threes, but we didn’t get out there. Coach said we have to start this game with energy. Michigan and Tim Hardaway went nuts on the three-point line and Northwestern did as well.

“Teams see that and say, ‘If Ohio State isn’t going to defend the three-point line, we need to beat them there.’ We need to get out there, close out hard and fight through the screens.”

Matta on OSU’s ability to win Big Ten road games (the Buckeyes are 19-8 in those games the last three years): “I think that’s something that is a lot easier said than done. Number one, you have the competitive nature of this league. Number two, you have the venues you go into. Every game is as challenging an environment as it can be.

“To have that type of record, there have been a lot of great players involved in that. It’s not easy, I will tell you that.”

Matta on how precise his team needs to be against a team like Wisconsin: “The thing you have to be careful with Wisconsin is they will strike you quick. They’ll shoot threes and push in transition. But to play two teams that are considered to be slow in pace back to back, hopefully that’s a good thing and we won’t have to reiterate the same points.

“There is no doubt that the focus and concentration you have to have has to be at an all-time high in games like this.”

Matta on the Big Ten race: “You can’t change what happened in the past. We are where we are. You have to play forward. To sit and think, ‘Hey we’re in second place or whatever it is and I wish we were in first and I wish we had done this or done that,’ you can’t change it.”

* Next On The Docket: Ohio State hosts Minnesota (18-7, 8-6) Wednesday at 7 p.m. (Big Ten Network). That will be OSU’s only scheduled match-up with Minnesota. The Gophers (18-7, 6-6) will visit Iowa Sunday before visiting OSU.

* How We See It: These games against Wisconsin are always like a root canal. The Badgers play great halfcourt defense and make their opponents settle for lower percentage shots. The key for OSU, which has struggled somewhat in the halfcourt, will be patience and great execution.

Ohio State’s biggest issue right now, in my mind, is three-point defense. OSU’s last three opponents have combined to hit 47 percent of their three-point attempts (32 of 68). (That was 14 of 24 for Michigan, 7 of 18 for Indiana and 11 of 26 for Northwestern … and keep in mind that Northwestern missed its last four three-pointers at the end or that percentage would be 50 percent.)

The problem when you play your guards such heavy minutes (as Ohio State does with Craft, in particular) is they can’t be everywhere you need them to be on every possession. Wisconsin is the kind of patient team – just as Northwestern was – to take advantage of any lapses. Wisconsin is 41st nationally in made three-pointers per game (7.7 per outing). In what figures to be a low scoring game, any three-pointers made would be huge.

For OSU, Thomas struggled with his shooting mightily against Northwestern. He did have a big game against Wisconsin the first time around, though. As we like to say, he needs to be economical with his shooting. He’s at his best when he takes turns scoring and getting others involved. Craft and Smith also need to play well.

OSU broke an eight-game losing streak at the Kohl Center last year. I doubt it will take another eight visits before OSU wins there again. But I’m not convinced this team is playing well enough right now to take down the Badgers on their home floor, either.

I’ve got it: Wisconsin 57, Ohio State 54 in a real nut cruncher

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