February 07, 2011
Since Florida State and St. John's exposed Duke's mortality last month in the wake of Kyrie Irving's toe injury, the prevailing notion among analysts has been that there isn't a truly great team in college basketball this season.
If Ohio State wins at No. 13 Wisconsin on Saturday, isn't it time we reconsider?
Consider for a moment what the top-ranked Buckeyes have accomplished this season in rolling to a blemish-free 24-0 record.
They throttled SEC front-runner Florida in Gainesville in November and limited Florida State to 44 points in Tallahassee two weeks later. They won their first 11 league games against an unusually deep Big Ten by an average of nearly 10 points. And they clobbered second-place Purdue by 23 points last month in their lone meeting thus far.
A win at Wisconsin should elevate Ohio State's reputation even more because so few opposing teams have had success in Madison. Not only are the Badgers 148-11 at home in Bo Ryan's tenure and 75-6 against in-conference foes, they also haven't lost in 13 games at the Kohl Center so far this season.
What could give Ohio State an advantage is having six days to prepare for the Badgers' distinctive style.
"They're not a team you want to play on a one-day turnaround if at all possible because they're so good and they're so complex," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said Monday on a teleconference."The more time you have, the better with any team, but Wisconsin would definitely be one of those teams."
One of the reasons Ohio State hasn't received the same respect that past juggernaut teams have is because the Buckeyes aren't loaded with surefire NBA prospects up and down their roster.
Whereas North Carolina's 2009 team and Florida's 2007 team both had at least three first-round draft picks in their starting lineups, Ohio State's lone likely first-rounder is freshman big man Jared Sullinger. Nonetheless, the Tar Heels and Gators both had two losses at this point in their seasons -- two more than a Buckeyes team that has surrounded Sullinger with sweet-shooting perimeter players Jon Diebler, William Buford and David Lighty.
For Ohio State to be remembered as a great team the way North Carolina or Florida are, the Buckeyes of course will have to cut down the nets in Houston this April.
That's a possibility for Ohio State whether it wins at Wisconsin or not, but winning in Madison is a huge step toward a potential undefeated regular season and a lasting legacy.
"We've got a great challenge this week in Madison," Matta said. "They're playing great basketball, so it should be very interesting."