Preview: No. 24 Ohio State at No. 14 Wisconsin

By Kyle Rowland on February 1, 2014 at 6:00a
The resemblance to Bucky Badger is remarkable. Bo Ryan has been dealing with losses.
Ohio State Buckeyes #24 Ohio State 16-5, 3-5 Big Ten Roster | Schedule 12:00 PM ET - ESPN —— Kohl Center Madison, WI Wisconsin Badgers #14 Wisconsin 17-4, 4-4 Big Ten Roster | Schedule

Three weeks ago, Ohio State was undefeated and ranked third in the country and Wisconsin was unbeaten and ranked fourth.

The times they are a-changin’.

Since then, the teams have combined to go 2-9. A once huge game with national implications is almost meaningless in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are only one game clear of last place in the win column. Meanwhile, 8-0 Michigan and 8-1 Michigan State have separated from the pack.

“We were on a four-game losing slump, we beat Illinois and everything was back to normal,” senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. “Everybody was happy. We acted like we didn’t just lose four games in a row. As a team I don't think we cared enough.”

Wisconsin’s downfall is even more surprising. After all, there were murmurs of overachieving and overrated when Ohio State cruised through the non-conference schedule. Could the Buckeyes really be that good without Deshaun Thomas? The answer now seems obvious.

But the Badgers reeled off several impressive victories in the first two months – Florida, Iowa, Virginia, St. John’s, West Virginia. Then came the losses, to Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern. Two of those came at home where Wisconsin seemingly wins every game.

Similar to Ohio State’s Nebraska conundrum, the Badgers beat Northwestern by 27 only to lose by nine a month later. With the core of last season’s team returning, names like Sam Dekker, Ben Brust, Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson, this was thought to be Wisconsin’s best chance at reaching the Final Four.

“These teams are coming in and punching us in the mouth and we’re not punching back,” Dekker said. “It’s as simple as that. We’re being soft. We’re being unaggressive. We’re being the team that’s lacking in all the categories that you need to win.”

These scenarios are foreign to Thad Matta and Bo Ryan. What’s become the norm for the basketball programs in Columbus and Madison is a status usually saved for the cities' football behemoths. Losing isn’t part of the equation.

“Obviously I don’t like the position we’re in, but it’s the reality of it,” Matta said. “We’ve got to fight our way out.”

4 A. Craft SR 6-2/195 9.2 3.4 4.9 G 12 T. Jackson JR 6-2/208 11.0 3.9 4.8
3 S. Scott JR 6-1/185 7.5 3.7 3.7 G 1 B. Brust SR 6-1/196 13.2 4.8 1.6
32 L. Smith Jr. SR 6-4/210 12.2 4.9 1.4 G 21 J. Gasser JR 6-3/190 8.8 3.8 1.7
10 L. Ross JR 6-8/220 14.2 5.7 0.8 F 15 S. Dekker SO 6-8/220 14.0 6.4 1.4
23 A. Williams JR 6-11/250 9.0 6.5 0.3 C 44 F. Kaminsky JR 7-0/234 13.1 6.0 1.2

Opponent Breakdown

You name it, and Wisconsin’s probably had an off night during their recent slump. The latest no-show was offense. Incredibly, the Badgers shot less than 30 percent from the field against Northwestern on Wednesday.

Not unlike Ohio State, the frustration with the Wisconsin players has boiled over. Following the loss to the Wildcats, Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker let loose a reality check of sorts.

“It’s time to buckle down,” he said. “You don’t want to end up sitting back at the end of the season and guessing, ‘What if? We had a good team, what could have happened?’ It’s time for us to go out there and make it happen.”

When someone pointed out that his message might be perceived as negative or something people wouldn’t want to hear, Dekker said, “Can’t be playing Mr. Nice Guy all the time.”

One issue that doesn’t necessarily involve offense or defense that’s plagued the Badgers is disorganization. Mistakes are being made at both ends and the end result is five guys looking at one another not knowing what the answer is.

Opponents have come out and played an aggressive brand of basketball that sets the tone early. Wisconsin has been unable to recover.

Kaminsky said the team’s played like schoolchildren. Talent alone won’t win, especially in the Big Ten.

“It takes work,” Kaminsky said. “We’ve got to get back to knowing that it takes work and not thinking it’s just going to fall in our laps, because obviously we’ve found out here, it’s not going to fall in our laps.”

The No. 1 step is playing hard and playing smart. Making fewer mistakes than the other team usually pays big dividends.

“That’s why athletics are what they are,” associate head coach Greg Gard said. “It’s always variable. There’s never a constant. So the teams that can be the most consistent give themselves the best chance.”

Buckeye Breakdown


That’s how senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. summed up Ohio State’s Wednesday night performance in an epic second-half meltdown that resulted in an overtime loss to lowly Penn State. Last week, the Nebraska loss was viewed as the low point of the Thad Matta era. Just a week later, the Nittany Lions’ triumph is the clubhouse leader.

After a 15-0 start, the Buckeyes have endured a four-game losing streak and now five losses in six games. It’s unfamiliar territory for every member of the team, all the way down to coaches and managers.

Asked what the missing ingredient is, Smith rattled off a list of words used to describe successful teams: “Toughness. Character. Camaraderie. Leadership.”

"This is embarrassing."Smith hasn't been shy with his feelings.

The team’s two seniors – Smith and Aaron Craft – took responsibility for the current state of affairs. During the post-game press conference Wednesday, the duo sat solemnly with tears in their eyes. It’s a long way from being ranked No. 3.

“I can’t even talk,” Smith said. “This game hurts the most out of every game since I’ve been at Ohio State.”

Those are powerful words when you consider the Buckeyes’ season has ended in heartbreaking fashion the past three seasons. But the performance against Penn State was unlike anything seen before in the past 10 years. Then again, it’s something that – maybe – is becoming all too familiar.

The final eight minutes of games has been a period of wretched play for Ohio State ever since furious comebacks against Notre Dame and Michigan State. In losses to Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Penn State, the Buckeyes have completely wilted.  The latest example was surrendering an 11-point lead with eight minutes left (and 10-point advantage with six minutes remaining). In regulation and overtime, Ohio State led in the closing seconds only to allow the Nittany Lions to score.

“We weren’t the tougher basketball team,” Craft said. “We have the ball, chance to go up three, and we turn the ball over. They go down, they got guys that want to make plays, and they did it.”

Suddenly, the Buckeyes are nearing the NCAA Tournament bubble, a position they haven’t been in for years. Three of their next four games are against ranked opponents with two on the road. Lose all three and March becomes a three-letter acronym – NIT.

It’s far from what anyone in college basketball envisioned as recently as a month ago. Smith and Craft were in the midst of a memorable senior year, Matta was on his way to another 20-win season and the Final Four became a buzzword once again. But now those memories have been created for the wrong reasons.

“These losses don’t hurt enough. This is embarrassing,” Smith said. “Every other team in our conference is laughing at us right now. My senior year, this is not what I had in mind. But I’ll never give up on my team.”


  • Thad Matta is 11-11 against Wisconsin as Ohio State's head coach. 
  • Aaron Craft was named Capital One Academic All-District IV, which makes him eligible to be an Academic All-American. Craft has twice been a member of the Academic All-American team. If he makes a third, he'll be the fourth Big Ten player in history to accomplish that feat. 

Comments Show All Comments

gwalther's picture

Amir Williams needs to find the end of the bench. His slow reaction time, lack of enthusiasm, poor decisionmaking, body language/attitude and inability to make a decisive impact on either end of the floor are absolutely killing us. Amir may be a fine young man, but he is not a good basketball player. With Amir on the floor we're effectively playing 4 on 5 on the offensive end, and we're already a poor offensive team before you consider that. It's awful.
It's awful, and it's disappointing, but it is what it is. He's not getting better. And he brings no dominant impact on the defensive end or in the rebounding department to offset his total lack of skills on the offensive end. This might be a harsh write-up, but it's how I feel. It's only basketball, so no knock on Amir as a person, but his deficiencies as a basketball player are hurting this team. 
He needs to find the end of the bench. Let MacDonald get more minutes, or just roll with small lineups the entire game. We can't do much worse than losing 5 of 6 trying that strategy.

Class of 2008

Killer nuts's picture

I disagree. I'll give you that Amir's play hasn't been inspiring or dominant but for better or worse he is a key component of this team. He has gotten better every year in every statistical category including points, rebounds, blocks, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage. 9 points and 7 rebounds in 24 minutes per game shouldn't be scoffed at on a team that struggles both to score and rebound. Beyond that, I shutter to think what would happen if we play small ball for 40 minutes against kaminsky and dekker inside. He's not an all American but entrenching Amir at the end of the bench is not the likely solution 
edit: I did not down vote you, just having a discussion

chirobuck's picture

so nothing should change?? and if something does need to change what do you suggest?


^ best post ever ^

Killer nuts's picture

I never said nothing should change,, I just don't think not playing Amir at all is the best solution. One thing to consider is that the same lineup that has lost 5 out of 6 also won 15 straight so at times they are capable, that said obviously something is amiss right now and changing it up might help break this streak. 
I think Thad Matta teams always derive energy for defense when they're scoring on offense and right now this team has too many guys that are timid to shoot and the result is a small portion of guy end up forcing shots late in the shot clock (laquinton, craft, lenzelle). Those bad offenses possessions carry over to our defense. This is particularly magnified in close late game situations where everyone starts playing tight and waiting for someone else to make a play.
My suggestions for change would be several. Limit the amount of time craft and Scott are on the floor together, an entire back court of non shooting threats allows a defense to sag, clog the lane, and force a lineup that only has 2 "shooters" (Q and lenzelle) to launch contested jumpers. Instead I would rotate craft and Scott to keep them both fresh at the 1 and rotate lenzelle, ADV, and loving at the 2 and 3. This gets an extra shooting threat on the floor and should stress the defense more. Also, when craft and Scott are in together, and especially when they're with Slam and lenzelle I would press. And not the token pressure we do already but the running around, trapping, flying all over the place press that Louisville plays all game. Those four guys are long, athletics, and a nightmare to advance the ball on. Finally, I don't mind going small and playing Laquinton at the 5 some if the time is right but against bigger lineups we probably give up just as many points as we gain by doing it. I don't think giving all of Amir's minutes to McDonald is a great choice because while Trey will undoubtedly hustle more I don't think the production of the position would change much and I'm sure Trey would foul out. 

gwalther's picture

Dan Dakich, announcing this game right now, is saying all the same things I said in my post.

Class of 2008

Killer nuts's picture

At no point has he said that Amir shouldn't play

RBuck's picture

Not to mention his "hands of stone". Perry Carter II.

Long live the southend.

gwalther's picture

Lol. So true man. Seeing McDonald get the offensive board and put back and also cleanly catch a pass under the basket and finish while taking contact were extremely refreshing things to see.

Class of 2008

InvertMyVeer's picture

Asked what the missing ingredient is, Smith rattled off a list of words used to describe successful teams: “Toughness. Character. Camaraderie. Leadership.”

That stings. Hopefully they pull it together and at least make the dance but the road ahead isn't getting any easier. 
At Wiscy
At Iowa
Vs Purdue
At Illinois 
Vs Minne
At Indy
Vs Sparty
Hard to see a lot of wins there at this point.

Football is complicated...

RedStorm45's picture

Will not be surprised with 1-9 or 2-8.  Purdue at home, but every other game you can make a case we'll lose.

BukFan's picture

We're still ranked??????

OSU069's picture

Rankings don't change until Monday I believe

bdegroff's picture

Can we skip ahead to NSD? Will be surprised if the Bucks keep it under 15. The team lacks any enthusiasm to truly compete. I hope the Bucks pay attention to the Badgers play and take some notes. Bo Ryan doesn't always get top talent, but they are motivated, play hard, and show emotion!

Hovenaut's picture


Take me to late August.

tennesseebuckeye11's picture

To be honest I didn't expect much from this team and their good start raised my hopes to levels that I have since fallen from.  I see us pulling out a good win here or there but the failures against Nebraska and Penn St. I think will ultimately doom us to the NIT.  Maybe the worst part of the whole basketball season is how much talent TTUN lost and how good they are playing vs. what we lost and how terrible we seem to be.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Got a good feeling on this one.  You could say I'm optimistic about this game.  Looking forward to it.  Always love the idea of watching my buckeyes, sometimes the watching itself is difficult.  Hopefully not today.  Go Bucks.

Read my entire screen name....

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Mr. Armchair Coach here ... I'm wondering if the buckeyes could try to wear opponents down by platooning our players in there.  This team is obviously offensively challenged, but does have pretty good depth in terms of athletes.
Platoon one:  Craft, Smith, Amir, Loving, ADV
Platoon two: Scott, Thomas, Trey, Ross, Lorbach (Kam Williams?)
Just keep them coming in waves, each platoon goes full throttle on offense and defense.  At the end of the game they can collapse if need be, they're young and can recuperate.
I'm sure Matta would welcome this advice.
Anyway, I hope the bucks come out and the shots start falling, sports is body and mind and one good game could help turn things around.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

I spent a few minutes in front of the mirror trying to make that Bo Ryan face.... No luck.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.