Wisconsin-Ohio St. Preview
Revenge may be nice, but for Ohio State, a third Big Ten tournament title in four years would be better.
The 10th-ranked Buckeyes have a prime opportunity for both as well as a chance to bolster their NCAA tournament seed on Sunday at the United Center versus No. 22 Wisconsin, which has a chance to make history of its own in Chicago.
Coach Thad Matta's team suffered its worst loss of the season at the Kohl Center on Feb. 17, falling 71-49 as the Badgers (23-10) shot a season-high 52.7 percent while limiting the Buckeyes (25-7) to 37.5 percent, one of their worst efforts in 2012-13. It was the last defeat for second-seeded Ohio State, which has reeled off seven straight wins and is in the Big Ten title game for the fifth consecutive year after battling past No. 8 Michigan State 61-58 in the second semifinal on Saturday.
"We've got to be ready from the tip off against them, because last game we weren't kind of ready," said Buckeyes leading scorer Deshaun Thomas, who scored 16 points in the semifinal win. "But now we've got to be ready and focused because we know Wisconsin is going to hold that ball and try to run the clock to the end."
Aaron Craft, who endured a miserable day in that loss in Madison - going 2 for 9 and finishing with four points - had 20 against the Spartans and is scoring 12.3 points per game on 58.9 percent shooting during the winning streak to raise his average to 9.9.
''You look at what he's accomplished thus far in his career at Ohio State and just the wins and the big plays that he's made - in coaching, you don't get to coach a lot of guys like him just from A to Z and everything he stands for,'' Matta said of Craft, who added nine assists and four steals. ''He kind of makes us go on both ends of the floor. ... A lot of people panicked when he wasn't scoring in the middle of the season, and I'm like, `I don't have a problem with it. It'll come.'''
Thomas has averaged 20.5 points in his last four games versus Wisconsin and had 25 in Ohio State's 58-49 home victory Jan. 29.
The Buckeyes are trying to become the first Big Ten school to win four conference tournament titles since it was introduced in 1998. Their eight championship game appearances are the most of any team.
To claim that fourth title, Ohio State may need every point Craft and Thomas score. Wisconsin, the No. 4 seed, is trying to become the first team to win the Big Ten tournament by beating the top two seeds and accomplished the first part by eliminating conference champion and third-ranked Indiana 68-56 in the early semifinal on Saturday.
Ryan Evans scored 16 points and freshman Sam Dekker added nine of his 11 in the second half, but it was the Badgers' trademark sticky defense that keyed the victory, holding the high-powered Hoosiers to seven points over the final 9:45 to pull away for the victory.
"I just again can't tell you how proud I am of the defensive effort on a very good offensive team," said coach Bo Ryan, who is seeking his third Big Ten tournament title and first since his last championship game appearance in 2008. "Again, it's nice to be able to play in a championship game. I know our guys are looking forward to that, and we'll see what happens in the next game."
Dekker may be the crucial factor offensively for the Badgers, who are 15-4 when he reaches double figures. He had 13 in the home victory over the Buckeyes, but only five in the road loss.
Wisconsin is making its fifth championship game appearance, having lost to Ohio State in the 2007 title game, and is 1-3 all-time against the Buckeyes in Big Ten tournament games.